A former Hooters waitress claims she was forced to quit her job after undergoing brain surgery which left her bald and with a scar that made wearing a wig too painful.
Sandra Lupo, 27, sued the restaurant chain in federal court. Lupo had worked as a waitress at Hooters since April 2005 but took a leave from her job for a few weeks last summer to have a cranial mass removed.
In July 2012, doctors gave Lupo clearance to go back to work at Hooters, where she worked to put herself through nursing school.
According to court documents, Lupo had the support of her manager, who visited her in the hospital and suggested when she was ready to return to work that she wear a “chemo cap” or jewelry items “to distract from her lack of hair and the visibility of her cranial scar.
Court documents revealed that before she returned to work, Lupo and her immediate manager met with the Hooters regional manager who said Lupo would be required to wear a wig while at work.
The lawsuit claims Lupo told the Hooters regional manager she did not have a wig and that she could not afford a wig, as they range in cost between several hundred and several thousands of dollars. And according to the lawsuit, the regional manager did not offer to pay for the wig.
When her manager approached Lupo a 2nd time, Lupo said she borrowed a wig and tried to wear it at work, but the wig caused extreme stress to her body because of the surgery and the healing wound.
Lupo’s hours were then reduced; the reduction of her hours left her with so little income she was forced to quit, which made her ineligible for unemployment benefits.
The lawsuit states 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.
In a complaint filed with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Lupo said she never believed her customers were ever “offended” by her appearance at the chain.
“My customers were not offended, and were in fact curious about the obvious scar from my surgery,” she wrote in the complaint.
“Hooters of America believes the lawsuit is without foundation, denies the accusations and has filed a motion that the lawsuit be dismissed,” a Hooters spokesman told ABCNews.
Hooters, who pioneered the “breastaurant” concept in the 1980s, opened in 1983 and grew to more than 460 locations across 44 states. But the chain is currently struggling compared to other restaurants in the same niche.
According to Alyssa Newcomb with ABC News, the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals who have a disability.
“This includes having a physical or mental impairment, a history of having an impairment or the perception of having one.”
Marcia McCormick, an associate professor of law at St. Louis University, said Lupo’s surgery to remove a brain mass qualifies as a disability, but that Hooters could argue her appearance was a mandatory qualification for her job.
“In the disability context, if Hooters is to say she’s not as attractive now without this wig, if they’re selling her attractiveness that might be a real function of her job and mean she isn’t qualified by the Americans With Disabilities Act,” McCormick said.