Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

U.S. commission sues South Tampa massage center for firing employee over Ebola fears

TAMPA — A massage therapist was fired for traveling to the African nation of Ghana after bosses who feared she would bring back Ebola forbid her from going there, according to a federal complaint.

Now, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the employer, a South Tampa Massage Envy franchise, alleging it discriminated against Kimberly Lowe because she had a disability.

The case is a significant example of protection against disability discrimination — whether or not the alleged victim actually had one, Kimberly Cruz, an attorney in Miami representing the commission, told the Tampa Bay Times.

"This establishes what Congress set out to do in protecting those with disabilities, actual or presumed," Cruz said.

Attorneys for the business acknowledge they fired Cruz for traveling, but they say it's none of the commission's business because the grounds for their decision was insubordination, not discrimination.

Lowe, a licensed massage therapist, was hired by South Tampa Massage Envy in 2012. According to the commission complaint, filed with U.S. District Court in Tampa, Lowe asked for permission in 2014 to visit her sister in Ghana.

Roxanna Iorio, the company business manager, approved the request, the complaint states.

But after Lowe's last scheduled shift before her time off, in October 2014, Iorio and a Massage Envy owner, Ron Wuchko, told her that if she traveled to Ghana she would be fired, according to the complaint.

Wuchko told Lowe if she went to Ghana she would contract Ebola and "bring it home to Tampa and infect everyone," according to the complaint.

Ghana, in fact, never recorded a death as the disease claimed some 11,300 lives through January 1916 in the western African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

The capital of Ghana was chosen by the United Nations as an emergency response headquarters during the Ebola crisis because it was close to the deadly outbreak without actually experiencing it. The headquarters was closed in June 2015 after the crisis abated.

Despite her bosses' directive, Lowe went to Ghana anyway. When she returned, she was not allowed to work at Massage Envy or to keep her clients, according to the complaint.

Lowe declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

Her firing, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, violates the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

"This case calls into focus workplace decisions based upon the very fears and stereotypes Congress long ago intended to prohibit," commission attorneys wrote in the complaint.

Attorneys with Massage Envy disagree.

"Making a choice to travel is not an impairment under the ADA, whether actual or perceived," they wrote in response to the complaint. "Lowe's refusal to cancel her trip constitutes an act of insubordination."

The commission serves an important role in employment law, but not in this case, said Sharon Wey, an attorney in Tampa with Miller, Tack and Madson, representing Massage Envy. Michael Miller, a lead attorney with the firm, told the Times that the complaint sets a poor precedent.

"This is an incredibly far reaching position for the EEOC to take," Miller said. "Congress writes the law. The EEOC does not write the law. That's what they're trying to do. ... Everyone in America has the potential to become disabled."

Miller called the case a "David and Goliath" attack on a small business franchise by the government.

"At the same time," he said, "we all know how David and Goliath worked out."

Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected]

Comments
Former Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar “progressing well’ after surgery

Former Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar “progressing well’ after surgery

As former teammates with the Rays and throughout baseball share thoughts and prayers, RHP Danny Farquhar is "progressing well" in a Chicago hospital after suffering a hemorrhage caused by a brain aneurysm on Friday.The White Sox on Monday released th...
Updated: 1 hour ago

High school scoreboard for April 23

Monday’s scoreboardBaseballCanterbury 10, Citrus Park Christian 0Northeast 12, Countryside 5
Updated: 2 hours ago
Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

TAMPA — A 68-year-old man was arrested Monday on a first-degree murder charge, according to Tampa police.Officers took James Leon Jackson into custody at 2712 W Nassau St. in west Tampa at about 1 p.m. A warrant for his arrest had been issued Friday....
Updated: 2 hours ago
A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

In May 1914, a Hernando County grand jury decided not to indict John Davis, a black man accused of attempting to assault a white woman in a hotel. But days after he was released from the Citrus County jail, Davis’s body was found beaten with a ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

ST. PETERSBURG — Absolutely, Alex Cobb was saying over the phone, it's going to be weird pitching Tuesday against the Rays.The organization that he owes so much for rearing him since high school, standing by him through assorted injuries, enabl...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., April 23, midday:40 874 5140e_SRit69262Mon., April 23, evening:76 974 2849e_SRit78236Fantasy 5Mon., April...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Waffle House slaying suspect arrested; veteran receives world’s most extensive penis transplant; more in U.S. news

Waffle House slaying suspect arrested; veteran receives world’s most extensive penis transplant; more in U.S. news

TennesseeWaffle House slaying suspect arrestedThe mentally unstable white gunman suspected of killing four people and wounding more at a diverse Nashville Waffle House was arrested near his apartment Monday, authorities said. Police and federal agent...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Armenia’s leader quits amid protests; van driver kills 10 in Toronto; more in world news

Armenia’s leader quits amid protests; van driver kills 10 in Toronto; more in world news

ArmeniaLeader quits: ‘I was wrong’Ten days of demonstrations forced the resignation Monday of the man who has led post-Soviet Armenia since 2008. The unexpected resignation prompted the jubilation of tens of thousands in capital Yerevan’s Republic Sq...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

TAMPA — The 1-month-old infant reported missing Monday was found hours later about 300 miles north in Quincy, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Sage Cooper was reported to be unharmed, officials said, and Gadsden County sheriff’s ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Saudi-led airstrike at Yemen wedding killed at least 20

SANAA, Yemen — An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a wedding party in northern Yemen, killing at least 20 people including the bride, health officials said Monday, as harrowing images emerged on social media of the deadly bombing, the third t...
Updated: 4 hours ago