Hooters Waitress Forced To Quit: Was Sandra Lupo Discriminated Against Because Of Her Appearance?
A former Hooters waitress alleges she was fired because of her appearance after brain surgery, which required her to have her head shaved and left her with a healing scar. Sandra Lupo, 27, is now suing the restaurant in federal court, claiming that her appearance led her manager to cut her hours in an attempt to force her to quit.
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Lupo had worked as a waitress at a Hooters restaurant in St. Peters, MO, since 2005, but had to leave her job for a few weeks in the summer 2012 for brain surgery, ABC News reports. Lupo had a cranial mass removed from her skull.
According to court documents, Lupo's manager at Hooters was supportive of Lupo during her surgery, even visiting her at the hospital. He did ask, however, that when she returned to work, she wear a "chemo cap."
When Lupo returned to Hooters in July, the restaurant's regional manager said that Lupo was required to wear a wig while at work.
Lupo, who was working to put herself through nursing school, said she did not have a wig nor could she afford one. When her manager approached her again about the wig, she decided to borrow one from a friend. However, Lupo said the wig hurt and that she was unable to wear it.
"[Lupo's] physical injury was an actual disability from her surgery which limited the major life activity of working when such work required a wig to be worn," court documents said.
Shortly after, Lupo alleges that her manager cut back her hours to the point that she wasn't making enough money and had to quit.
In an email to ABC News, a spokesperson for Hooters wrote, "Hooters of America believes the lawsuit is without foundation, denies the accusations and has filed a motion that the lawsuit be dismissed."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sex, race, age and disability. However, there is an exception to Title VII. According to one lawyer, an employer can select employees based on sex, race and gender if he can prove that one of those characteristics is a "bona fide occupational qualification."
In order to establish the defense of bona fide occupational qualification, an employer must prove the requirement is necessary to the success of the business and that a definable group or class of employees would be unable to perform the job safely and efficiently. An employer should demonstrate a necessity for a certain type of workers because all others do not have certain characteristics necessary for employment success.
Furthermore, discrimination based on appearance alone is not prohibited under Title VII. Also, employers are entitled to enforce "grooming" codes; for example, employees can be required to wear suits. Even asking women to wear makeup, in some cases, is acceptable under the law. "Grooming" codes cannot, however, place a greater burden on one gender over the other.
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from qualified workers who have a physical or mental impairment, a history of having impairment or the perception of having one.
In order for Lupo to win her case against Hooters, her lawyers will need to prove that her condition post-surgery constitutes a disability, and therefore is a protected clause.
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