By David Blank
A popular North Carolina Wendy’s employee will soon be celebrating his retirement. But now, it’s on his own terms.
The fast food restaurant, located in the town of Stanley, around 18 miles outside of Charlotte, was under scrutiny after firing Dennis Peek, an employee of over 20 years with Down syndrome.
Peek, 52, is described by his sister as a caring person with a contagious smile who never met a stranger.
“He doesn’t see bad in anyone. He loves people,” Cona Young Turner told CNN.
Letting go of a local legend
Turner said her brother loved working at the Wendy’s as it enabled him to see all those who he adored and adored him. “All of Stanley knows Dennis. He’s lived in the town for 40 years,” she said.
She said she was deeply upset after discovering her brother had been let go.
Those who ate at that establishment knew Peek and his solid work ethic, Turner said. His sister also spoke of his daily duties that he took great pride in. “He was a dining room table cleaner. He picked up trash and took it out to the bins. He restocked condiments and cleaned trays,” she said.
His caretaker told Turner of Wendy’s decision to fire Peek. Turner says she immediately went to the restaurant he worked at and asked to speak to the manager. She said she requested a copy of Peek’s termination, wanting to understand why he suddenly couldn’t do his job.
According to Turner, the manager claimed she didn’t have proof of termination; it was sent to corporate. Turner said she asked the manager to have corporate fax the termination papers to the restaurant. The manager said she would do so and that she would call Turner back, according to Turner.
After not receiving the papers or a call after many hours, Turner took to Facebook.
She told CNN that she didn’t want to go the route of social media but didn’t know how else to get justice for Peek.
The family was planning for Peek to retire until he was let go. “It was very unfair to fire him; he would never understand why,” Turner said.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects cognitive ability, causing mild to severe learning disabilities and distinctive facial characteristics.
She said the proper way would have been for Wendy’s management and herself to sit down and discuss Peek’s performance and let the family handle the situation.
“They should decide what’s best. If there was any issue with his performance, then Wendy’s should have informed me and we would give him his retirement party sooner which would have been a smooth transition,” she said.
Carolina Restaurant Group, the owner of the Wendy’s location, offered to rehire Peek the next morning, Turner said. The group was unaware of Peek’s firing and found out about it through Turner’s post, she said.
“We are committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for our employees and our customers,” the company said in a statement to CNN affiliate WSOC-TV. “This was an unfortunate mistake and lapse in protocol; we are in touch with the employee’s family, and we are looking forward to welcoming him back to work in the restaurant.” Carolina Restaurant Group did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
However, Peek’s family felt retirement was the best step forward, and they plan to have a party on November 5. The restaurant group also offered to help with the family’s celebration of his 20-plus year career, Turner said.
When a town and the internet rallied around a friend
After Turner posted on Facebook, support instantly poured in from all over. Both from friends and family of Stanley and compassionate strangers — all offering to send happy retirement cards and gifts.
In a second update to her post she added an address to send cards and letters congratulating Peek on his retirement.
Although his former employer offered to help with the party, the town of Stanley is going to sponsor the party at Harper Park instead.
Tug Deason, the Stanley mayor’s spokesperson, is organizing the event. “I saw the article and his sister wanting to have a retirement party so I reached out to offer help throwing Dennis a party. She gladly accepted and we’re honored and thrilled to be able to help him,” Deason said.
Peek will be presented with a plaque for his 20 years of service and for brightening up the town, according to Deason.
“The mayor is excited and honored to be able to celebrate Dennis,” Deason said.
Turner is prepared for a large celebration.
“I’m afraid because of Facebook I expect a huge turnout. A local woman in Stanley is making a huge cake. I have so many people offering to donate to his party,” she said.
What’s next for Dennis?
Peek is in a program with a life coach assisting him with his career if he chooses to continue working.
In the meantime, he spends his days writing in his journal and kindly asks to be left alone while he’s doing his homework.
Next weekend, he will be heading to make apple butter up in the mountains of North Carolina, Turner said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong last name for Dennis Peek’s sister in one reference. His sister is Cona Young Turner.
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