The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in a suit filed Tuesday that educational after-school camp Cooking Round the World violated federal law when it relieved an employee of her duties after she tested positive for latent tuberculosis.
The EEOC alleges in its suit in U.S. District Court that Alexis Le successfully worked for the Oakland-based company as a chef educator for several months before she tested positive for an inactive form of tuberculosis in March 2017.
The federal agency says that although Le explained that she was not contagious and had received a doctor’s certification permitting her to work in a school environment and as a medical assistant, CRTW director and owner Mindy Myers refused to allow her to continue to work as a chef educator, claiming that she could never again work with children or in schools.
The EEOC said the alternative leafleting job Myers offered Le paid less per hour and provided few hours per week, forcing Le to find other work to support herself.
The EEOC also charged that CRTW breached Le’s confidentiality by disclosing her diagnosis to a co-worker and failing to segregate employee medical records from non-confidential personnel records.
According to the EEOC, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a disability or a perceived disability.
The agency said the act also requires that all medical information about a disability be kept confidential, and maintained in separate medical files.
The EEOC said its suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief designed to prevent such discrimination in the future.
Myers said she feels “sad” that Le and the EEOC sued Cooking Round the World and said she fears that the suit may force the company, which she started six years ago, to go out of business.
Myers said Le felt sick when she was around food so she tried to accommodate Le “in multiple ways” such as offering positions that didn’t require her to be around food or children.
“We offered her (Le) lots of opportunities but she turned around and sued us.”
Myers said Cooking Round the World uses cooking lessons in different types of foods around the globe to teach children about geography and foreign languages and cultures.
William Tamayo, the director of the EEOC’s San Francisco office, said in a statement:
“Ms. Le loved her job working with children and was shocked when her boss would not accept her medical certification. The ADA protects qualified workers who are perceived as having a disability, in addition to those who actually do have a disability or a record of one.”
EEOC regional attorney Roberta Steele said:
“While it’s true that California law requires that staff working with students be free of infectious TB, Ms. Le had been certified by her doctor as non-contagious and safe to work in a school environment.”
“When Meyers relied on her own misperceptions over medical expertise to remove Le from her position she violated the ADA.”
EEOC trial attorney Debra Smith said:
“No employer, no matter how small or well-intended, is above the law. By disbelieving Ms. Le’s medical proof that allowed her to work with children, this employer caused her emotional distress and limited employment opportunity.”