Company Fired Employee for Traveling to Africa Where It Wrongly Believed She Would Contract Ebola, Federal Agency Charged
TAMPA, Fla. - STME LLC, which operates a Massage Envy franchise in south Tampa, violated federal law prohibiting discrimination based on disability status by firing an employee for traveling to Ghana, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, company officials insisted Kimberly Lowe cancel her approved vacation plans because they feared her travel would lead to a potentially catastrophic outbreak of Ebola in the United States, and fired her when she refused to do so. The EEOC said that the company discharged Lowe because it regarded her as disabled based on its unfounded fears and beliefs about Ebola in Ghana and the risk that she would contract Ebola on her trip.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit against STME in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division (EEOC v. STME LLC dba Massage Envy South Tampa, Case No. 8:17-CV-977-T-35-TBM M.D. Fla.) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief.
"Making employment decisions based on perceptions of disability clearly violates federal civil rights law," said the EEOC's Tampa Field Director Evangeline Hawthorne. "All employers need to be aware that the EEOC will continue to enforce the ADA vigorously."
"In passing the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress sought to protect people from being discriminated against based on unsubstantiated fears, myths, and unfounded stereotypes about actual or perceived disabilities," added Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office. "The employer conduct which the EEOC found in this case flouts the fundamental purpose of that very important law."
The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information can be found at www.eeoc.gov.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.