OLEAN — In a story that first appeared in the Olean Times Herald's print edition last week, a former McDonald’s employee claims she lost her job for doing a good deed.
Heather Levia, an Olean resident, said she was fired Friday morning from the McDonald’s on West State Street for donating breakfast food she and two of her co-workers paid for to emergency response personnel after a house fire.
McDonald’s officials say they are fully investigating that claim.
Around 3:35 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters from the city of Olean, Weston’s Mills and Allegany fire departments were dispatched to a fire at 431 N. Ninth St.
Later that morning, Ms. Levia said she was contacted by officials from The Salvation Army asking if McDonald’s would be willing to donate breakfast food for firefighters and other first responders.
“I told them that I didn’t have the authority to make that kind of decision,” Ms. Levia said, noting she worked as a morning shift leader. “So I told them I’d call our corporate offices to see what we could do.”
Ms. Levia, who worked at McDonald’s for the last eight years, said her superiors told her the company would not make a food donation to the firefighters.
“So I took it upon myself to donate $150 in food,” she said.
Two of Ms. Levia’s co-workers ended up sharing the cost to buy the food with her, Ms. Levia added.
During her morning shift Friday, Ms. Levia said she was fired. Her co-workers who chipped in were not fired, she said.
“I was told I was being fired for going against the wishes of McDonald’s as well has having my own opinion on not donating to the firefighters,” she said. “I was so caught off-guard by this. I’m very distraught that I would be fired over something like this. I was just trying to give back to the firefighters and they weren’t asking for much.”
Ms. Levia said she was also told she was being fired for using foul language toward management, an accusation she denies.
Tom Meyers, owner and operator of the McDonald’s on West State, offered few words on Ms. Levia’s claims, but said his company — the Meyers Organization — is “thoroughly investigating this matter and how it was handled.”
“My organization values the employees who serve our customers every day ...,” Mr. Meyers said. “Out of respect for Heather Levia it would not be appropriate for me to comment any further.”
“Rest assured that the Meyers Organization continues to be an ardent supporter of our public servants and first responders,” he continued. “They are always welcome in our restaurants and we will continue to support them in the future.”
The Meyers family has owned a McDonald’s franchise in Olean since 1972.
A Meyers Organization representative indicated to the Times Herald late Friday evening the co-workers who donated money for the first responders’ food donation were reimbursed by the company.
Food donations to first responders after fires or other emergencies are not uncommon, said Lt. Paulette Rockwell, a local Salvation Army official.
Whenever area firefighters or police respond to an emergency that requires them to be on-scene for an extended period of time, Olean’s Salvation Army branch sends its Emergency Disaster Services vehicle, a cargo truck stocked with food, water and blankets among other items to provide relief for first responders and victims.
“I’m heartbroken to hear that this young lady lost her job over this,” Lt. Rockwell said.
She said other area businesses donated breakfast foods for the firefighters that morning. Lt. Rockwell said she had approached McDonald’s about making a donation but was told by Ms. Levia that the employees would pool their money to buy the food.
“I just can’t believe this happened,” she said. “I talked to that young lady and thought it was a wonderful thing that they would help the firefighters who were outside in the below-zero weather all night.”
(Contact reporter Christopher Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHChris)