Federal Court Rejects Employment Claim Arising From Ebola Scare

A massage therapist requested time off from Massage Envy to visit her sister who was on military deployment to Ghana. However, her employer was concerned she would contract Ebola.  It persisted in its objection even after learning that the chance of the therapist contracting Ebola was low and that the therapist should be permitted to resume working upon her return if she did not exhibit Ebola symptoms. Nonetheless, her employer requested that the therapist refrain from travel to Ghana and terminated her when she traveled as planned.

The massage therapist sued and claimed that her employer was not concerned with Ebola. Rather, the therapist, who was white, claimed that her employer was discriminating against her due to her contemplated association with “black Africans.”

The court noted that the federal law prohibition on discrimination based upon interracial association is limited to specific existing relationships, not generally contemplated future associations. The Federal Court later rejected a retaliation claim because, absent a cogent claim of discrimination, the therapist could not claim that she was retaliated against for claiming discrimination. (The therapist apparently concocted the “black Africans” theory in concert with her lawyer after being terminated, and not during any discussion with her employer.)

The bottom line in this case is that companies facing dubious employment claims can stick to their guns and obtain favorable outcomes in court. The case is Lowe v. STME, LLC, 354 F. Supp. 3d 1311 (M.D. Fla. February 5, 2019).

Michael P. Beltran is Counsel in our Florida office.