How come the Ridgway Bar & Grill in Naples, Florida, fired John Timothy Robertson and his partner Steven Ray “Forrest” Chaplin (pictured, R-L)? Because they’re HIV positive, according to their discrimination complaint.
The pair — who worked as an assistant manager and a server, respectively — are not in good health, which makes their complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission even more pressing, the Naples News reports.
Last month, Robertson was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, just three months after his partner was diagnosed with the cancerous tumors associated with HIV and AIDS. Both are now in NCH Downtown Naples Hospital, Chaplin with a fever and low blood pressure due to chemotherapy last week, while Robertson’s white-cell count plummeted this week, possibly from chemo, and doctors are taking a biopsy of a three-week rash. Since they lost their jobs, Robertson has had shingles and Chaplin, who was hospitalized earlier for bilateral pneumonia, is seeking Social Security disability now because chemotherapy saps his energy. Robertson sought employment until last month, when he began chemo and a doctor ordered bed rest.
This month, there’s been a flurry of legal filings necessary for the case to move forward. The men, who also filed EEOC complaints, sued in August, a month after President Barack Obama released a strategy to enforce anti-discrimination laws, making it clear education about HIV transmission is crucial.
The restaurant’s president Anthony Ridgway and vice president Suzanne Honeycutt deny any wrongdoing. But Robertson and Chaplin’s version of events make things look quite suspicious.
Robertson was hired in October 2009 and was an assistant manager, while his partner began four months later as a server. The lawsuit calls them “exceptional employees” who received numerous compliments. On April 16, Robertson told Honeycutt he was HIV positive because she’d noticed they’d been sick and had doctors’ appointments. The lawsuit alleges she was concerned about them taking time off and asked how their medications would affect them. On May 20, the lawsuit says, they began receiving letters about their work performance and met with her. On June 6, they allege, she and Ridgway fired them and asked the staff not to say anything about the couple because it would “ruin the restaurant’s reputation.
[...] But in legal papers, the defendants deny they were terminated due to HIV or that they were exceptional employees, alleging Robertson was fired because of “performance deficiencies” and Chaplin then resigned. “Defendants’ actions toward John Timothy Robertson were based on legitimate non-retaliatory and non-discriminatory reasons completely unrelated to plaintiffs’ HIV status,” the defendants say in their affirmative defenses. Robertson said his medical appointments were on his days off and didn’t affect his workdays, but he did take time off just after he was hired when he got the flu. He was awarded unemployment compensation, but said Chaplin hadn’t worked long enough to qualify. “They gave me a series of excuses,” Robertson said of getting fired. “They were absurd excuses.”
The couple is seeking a fat $1 million payday for lost wages and pain and suffering. Under state and federal law, terminating an employee for having HIV/AIDS qualifies as illegal discrimination.