Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Hamburger Mary’s sues health department head over shuttering

The department inspected the restaurant following what it said was a diagnosed case of Hepatitis A.
The now-shuttered Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill is suing a top county health official. Pictured is its Ybor City location in October 2018.  [JOSH FIALLO | Times]
The now-shuttered Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill is suing a top county health official. Pictured is its Ybor City location in October 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times]
Published Oct. 10, 2019

TAMPA — The now-shuttered Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill is suing a top county health official, saying he wrongly accused an employee of its former Ybor City location of having Hepatitis A, leading to the local restaurant chain’s demise.

The suit claims Douglas Holt, director of the Hillsborough County office of the Florida Department of Health, publicized a false diagnosis as a form of discrimination against the restaurant because of its ties to the LGBTQ community.

According to the lawsuit filed last week, the health department contacted Hamburger Mary’s on Oct. 23, 2018 after it was told an unnamed employee was diagnosed with Hepatitis A. The health department asked to visit the restaurant to provide vaccinations and training for employees. The suit says co-owner Kurt King agreed to the visit.

But the affected employee, called “John Doe” in the lawsuit, was never actually diagnosed with Hepatitis A, the lawsuit says. Doe was tested for Hepatitis A, B and C two days before the department contacted the restaurant. The tests were “nonreactive for all three. King, the lawsuit says, informed the inspector of this during the visit, but the department still issued a news release indicating there was a positive diagnosis.

In an email, health department spokesman Kevin Watler said the health department “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

The hamburger chain was well-known for its strong ties to the LGBTQ community. King is gay, and the “overwhelming majority” of the Ybor City location’s employees were LGBTQ, the lawsuit says. The chain regularly held events such as Drag Queen Bingo.

According to the lawsuit, this affiliation caused it to be treated differently than other restaurants. While the Hillsborough County health department issued a press release about Hamburger Mary’s case, it did not release the names of other restaurants that had employees with Hepatitis A diagnoses, the lawsuit says.

Though specific restaurants were not named, Tampa’s Ulele had an employee who was diagnosed with Hepatitis A four months later in February, and the department was notified. There is currently is no news release on the health department’s site mentioning Ulele, but there is an April release for Sandpiper Grille related to Hepatitis A.

RELATED: Hepatitis A explained: What you should — and shouldn’t — worry about while dining out

The lawsuit also said Holt’s comments to the news media at the time indicated an anti-LGBTQ bias.

“Half of (Hepatitis A patients) report having drug use. The others would be a mixture of homelessness and particular sexual activities," Holt told ABC Action News. "The classic category is men having sex with men.”

Hamburger Mary’s is seeking damages, legal costs, a jury trial and declaration that Holt’s actions violated the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Premium Outlets, 2300 Grand Cypress Drive. The area’s newest outlet is touting the shop tax free weekend and extra savings on top of already reduced prices.
    Deputies are searching for a suspect. There is no public safety threat.
  2. Mike Bishop joins Pasco EDC staff. [Pasco EDC]
    News and notes on Pasco businesses
  3. Hernando County community news [Tara McCarty]
    News and notes on Hernando businesses
  4. A beer is pictured in the outdoor games area of Park & Rec on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Towers of Channelside condo association has filed a lawsuit against the bar, as residents complain about noise.
  5. Yacht StarShip, a dining and water taxi company, has added the Lost Pearl pirate ship to its fleet just in time for Gasparilla. [Yacht StarShip]
    After years entertaining tourists in Virginia Beach, the Lost Pearl is settling into its new Tampa Bay home.
  6. Bank OZK CEO and chairman George Gleason, left, and managing director Greg Newman are photographed at the OZK Wynwood branch in Miami on November 13, 2019. [CARL JUSTE | Miami Herald] [Carlt Juste | Miami Herald]
    In fact, Bank OZK has emerged as a powerhouse in commercial lending generally.
  7. Flooding from an October king tide in Miami Shores fills streets, sidewalks and driveways at its peak. [Miami Herald]
    And it could lose up to 35 percent of its value by 2050, according to a new report.
  8. Delta Air Lines said Friday it will launch five new round-trip routes a day between Tampa and Miami starting May 4. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) [MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP]
    Delta says the daily nonstop Miami service will create new connections for Tampa travelers to fly to Latin America and other international destinations.
  9. The Undercroft — the new home to a branch office of TheIncLab, an artificial intelligence firm — provides work space for several cybersecurity companies in one of Ybor City’s most historic structures, the El Pasaje building on E Ninth Avenue. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times [Richard Danielson]
    The Washington, D.C.-area company expects hiring 15 developers and engineers in the next twelve months and partnering with bay area universities to augment its staff with student interns.
  10. FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo Amazon packages move along a conveyor prior to Amazon robots transporting packages from workers to chutes that are organized by zip code, at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Cashless shopping is convenient, but it can be a budget-buster. This year, make it more difficult to spend money online. This could help cut out some of your impulse purchases. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File) [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
    Here are some tips to avoid wasting money when you shop.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement