OSWEGO, IL — Last month, Daniela de la Cruz had a job. She was a theater worker at Goodrich Quality Theaters, a cinema chain with 30 theaters across Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Florida, mostly in small or mid-size towns. De la Cruz worked at the Kendall 11 location in Oswego, and she said she enjoyed it. Then the new year came — and, very quietly, her job was gone.
“I was working there since the end of May ,” she said, “and I was fired on the 2nd [of January 2020].”
De la Cruz is one of the many 16-year-olds across the country whose jobs were eliminated by Goodrich Theaters owner Bob Goodrich at the start of the new year. She and other young employees at the multi-state theater chain knew for a while that the boss was planning to fire them. The news came down from management in November 2019 that a layoff of all 16- and 17-year old workers was coming in 2020.
“They first brought it up to us in November … the General Manager, John, said that Bob believed that younger employees couldn’t make connections with the older audience that comes in,” de la Cruz said. “Which is not, in my opinion, totally true.”
Besides management’s line, there were several different theories about why the layoff was occurring. Everything from Goodrich not wanting to pay teens a rising minimum wage to the idea that people under age 18 provide subpar customer service.
Another employee at Kendall 11 previously told Patch, “It really could be he doesn’t want to pay us the up-and-coming wage. That’s really the only thing I can think of.”
Speculations and management explanations aside, de la Cruz said they never received a formal reason for their termination from the company owner himself.
“Bob never really gave an actual reason as to why he wanted us fired,” she said.
Goodrich has not responded to multiple calls for comment on this issue. The matter was also completely left out of the company’s 2019 newsletter.
De la Cruz said firing all 16-year-olds working for you on the same day — especially in the theater industry — seems like an odd move for an employer. One that requires a solid explanation, at least, as the lay-off of 17-year-old employees is reportedly still coming sometime this summer. De la Cruz said Goodrich’s evasiveness on the matter is a source of frustration and confusion for herself and other Kendall 11 teen workers.
“[I] probably just want a valid reason as to why we were fired… Or why didn’t we get any notification, because then I would have started looking for jobs a long time ago.,” she said.
Strangely, de la Cruz also said that Goodrich, when she reached out to him directly, seemed troubled by the amount of women in his employ.
“I thought it was only based on age because obviously the 16 and 17-year-olds are being fired, but he kept bringing up different numbers about how there are more females working than males. It was just a bunch of random numbers that didn’t really pertain to the actual age situation,” she said.
De la Cruz added that all the teens lost their jobs, regardless of gender.
The teenage employees aren’t the only ones frustrated by the theater chain owner’s lack of communication. An older employee of the company — who asked to remain anonymous — said they were also the parent of one of the fired Kendall 11 workers. This employee said they couldn’t understand why Goodrich would fire an entire age cohort. Their feeling of indignation has gotten to the point, they said, where they don’t even want to patronize Goodrich Theaters on their personal time.
“We were thinking of seeing a movie [at Kendall 11] this weekend, but then I thought, do I really want to keep supporting a guy who would do this?” they mused.
In November 2019 a petition to save the teens’ jobs appeared on Change.org. It received over 10,000 signatures and claimed that Goodrich was firing his youngest workers because “adults don’t want to be served by teenagers.” The petition was obviously not successful, but the media attention it helped generate has led to at least one Michigan parent filing a discrimination complaint against the cinema chain.
Typically age discrimination law does not apply to anyone under the age of 40, though in Michigan it may be a different story. Howard Eglit, a professor emeritus of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, previously told Patch that Michigan — where 14 of the 30 Goodrich theaters are located — has one of the most robust anti-discrimination clauses of any state.
“Michigan has one of the broadest [employment discrimination] statutes in the country,” Eglit said.
He referred specifically to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. It states that employers shall not, “fail or refuse to hire or recruit, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment, because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status.”
De la Cruz is not a Michigander, and the Elliott-Larsen Act cannot help her or any of the other Kendall 11 teens now fired or soon to be fired. In the weeks since her termination, she has already found another job at another local theater. She doesn’t need or want Bob Goodrich to hire her back. She just wants answers.
“There were four of us that got fired, three of us had worked on [New Year’s Day],” she said. And then my friend… was supposed to close on the 2nd. But obviously she wasn’t allowed to go because by then we had already been told that Bob took us out of the system.”
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