April 9, 2013 at 1:28 PM ET
Following brain surgery, your main worry should not be whether you’ll get fired at work for refusing to wear a wig that scrapes your scar. But former Hooters waitress Sandra Lupo contends in a lawsuit that’s what happened when she declined to don a wig and her hours were reduced so much, she was forced to quit.
She filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in Missouri against Hooters of St. Peters, LLC and Hooters of America LLC and is seeking $25,000 for mental and emotional distress, plus punitive damages, attorney fees and other relief.
"Hooters of America believes the lawsuit is without foundation, denies the accusations and has filed a motion that the lawsuit be dismissed," the company said in a statement to NBC News. Hooters, in an April 5 response to the court, denies most of her statements and says “its actions were taken for legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reasons.”
Hooters is a privately held chain of restaurants that bank on attractive waitresses wearing short shorts and cleavage-hugging shirts.
Lupo, who had been working at the Hooters of St. Peters, Mo., since 2005, was in her last six weeks of nursing school and was at her computer in June 2012 when she felt tingling and numbness on her left side. “I was bleeding out in my brain,” she told NBCNews.com.
She spent a week in the hospital following her July 2 surgery and was visited by her Hooters manager, according to her suit filed on the Circuit Court of St. Charles County.
The lawsuit claims that her store manager told her “she could return to work as soon as she was capable, and that, she could wear a ‘chemo cap’ or any other items of jewelry to distract from her lack of hair and the visibility of her cranial scar.”
Her hair had been cut to ¼-inch for the surgery.
On July 16, Lupo’s doctors gave her the all-clear to return to work. Soon after, she met with her manager and the Hooters' regional manager, who said she would be required to wear a wig at work, according to Lupo’s lawsuit.
Hooters’ April 5 filing does not address whether any of its employees told Lupo to wear a wig. It says that her manager “informed her she would need a head covering.”
At the time of the meeting, Lupo protested that she was unable to afford a wig, which can cost from several hundred to several thousands of dollars, according to her claim.
When she did return to work July 21, wigless, she was told a wig was required. She then borrowed a wig but it “caused extreme stress to her body because of the surgery and the healing wound,” according to the suit.
Hooters then reduced her hours “to the point that Plaintiff could not earn an income, thereby forcing Plaintiff to quit,” according to the suit. “It is and has been the routine custom, policy and practice of Defendants to reduce their employees’ hours which forces them to voluntarily resign thereby making them ineligible for unemployment compensation.”
The Hooters filing specifically denies that allegation.
After Lupo said she could not wear the wig, Hooters stopped scheduling her for as many hours, she said.
“I actually had to beg for one shift a week,” Lupo said. Pre-surgery, she was working several days a week while finishing nursing school. She had also trained staff and worked promotions for the restaurant, but no alternate duties were offered to her.
“They refused to accommodate it,” she said.
Today she is recovered, graduated and working as a registered nurse.
“Justice,” she said, is the main goal of the lawsuit.
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