Sandra Lupo knew something was seriously wrong when she suddenly felt a numb, tingling sensation running along the left side of her body down to her toes. After she was admitted to the emergency room, a series of tests revealed a mass in the right side of her brain that had burst and was bleeding inside her skull. Doctors told her that without immediate surgery to remove the clot, there was a chance she could die.
Lupo, who'd been a waitress at the St. Peters location of Hooters since 2005, says she called and told her bosses that she was about to undergo into brain surgery. The procedure, which required drilling holes into and opening the skull, meant Lupo's long dark hair would have be shaved off.
"They said, 'Don't worry about it, no big deal,'" recalls Lupo.
According to a lawsuit Lupo filed last week in federal court, her manager told her she could wear jewelry or a knitted cap to soften the look, then return to her usual shifts. Lupo was waitressing to put herself through nursing school, and with only six weeks until graduation, she needed the steady income. Her hair, she says, went to Locks of Love.
The operation was a success, and two weeks later Lupo was cleared to return to work. But when she walked back in the doors at Hooters sporting a quarter-inch buzz cut, she says, management didn't like what it saw.
"I tried to on the first day, but they pulled me aside and said, 'No,'" she says.
Lupo's suit claims that a regional manager for Hooters happened to be there that day and informed her that she had to wear a wig. Her usual manager eventually agreed, saying the decision to make her wear a wig had come from higher up the corporate food chain.
Lupo says she tried to borrow a friend's to wear but found it painful. She says when her regulars requested she remove the wig to show them her real hair, she was pulled aside and admonished.
"It prolonged all the healing. It put it at a greater risk," she says of wearing the wig for a shift lasting from 10 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon. "There was a risk of infection."
Lupo's suit says she finally declined to wear a wig.
Click through for a response from Hooters and a copy of the lawsuit. As a result, Lupo says, her hours were cut. Because she needed full-time money coming in, she says, she was forced to quit.
"Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act by requiring her to wear a wig, and thereafter, constructively discharging Plaintiff because her disability was a contributing factor to the Defendants' conduct," the court filing reads. "As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants' conduct, Plaintiff has suffered lost wages of employment, embarrassment, humiliation and outrage."
The suit asks for no less than $25,000 in damages.
Scott Yates, a spokesman for Hooters, says in a statement that Lupo's version of events is simply not true. He sent the following statement from the company:
Hooters of America believes the lawsuit is without foundation, denies the accusations and has filed a motion that the lawsuit be dismissed.
Hooters of America never cut Sandra Lupo's hours. We wanted her to stay. It's unfortunate she chose to leave rather than working through this issue.
In either case, Lupo is now a full-time nurse and no longer needs to rely on little orange shorts and tips to get by. But she says she still wants some closure.
"I'm in the justice system for justice," she says.
Read the full complaint below:
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.