A former housekeeper with diabetes has sued Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, alleging the company unjustly fired him after he complained about being denied access to bathrooms and medication and enduring discrimination because he is a Black Jamaican.
Stevel Smith, 52, alleges his managers at the Yacht and Beach Club resorts violated the Americans with Disabilities Act with the way he was treated, according to a lawsuit filed in Orlando federal court on Jan. 11.
Smith now works part-time as a rideshare driver and “cries every time he passes Disney” because of his experiences, the lawsuit claims.
In the suit, Smith claims a manager asked him to hide in a closet because he was not “presentable.”
The litigation cites multiple alleged examples of Smith seeking assistance for his diabetes at work that Disney denied, including keeping his medication close and being able to use restrooms other than those designated for employees.
Smith urinated on himself at work multiple times because managers told him he could not take his medicine or use the hotel’s restrooms, according to the suit. Frequent urination is a common diabetes symptom.
Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination and retaliation against people with disabilities, and it requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for these workers. Diabetes falls under its requirements for protected conditions.
Smith also asserts his managers fired him under false pretenses in March 2020 in retaliation for complaining about those issues for over two years. Smith started working at the hotels in September 2017 but had worked at Disney World since 2013, according to the lawsuit.
In records, Smith said he experienced mental and emotional distress because of his experiences. He is demanding a jury trial to seek an unspecified amount in damages.
Disney spokesman Eric Scott did not respond to questions about Smith’s employment and the lawsuit.
“We will respond to the allegations in court,” Scott said in a statement.
Smith’s lawyer, Brett Kaplan, declined an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
“We fully intend to prove that Disney subjected Mr. Smith to an abusive environment because of his disabilities and that he was terminated for complaining of same,” he wrote in an email. “We commend Mr. Smith – a kind, gentle, and hardworking person – for coming forward and discussing his experience. We look forward to presenting our client’s claims in court, telling his story, and ultimately, holding Disney accountable.”
Discrimination lasted years, Smith alleges
The lawsuit lists multiple examples of alleged discrimination, starting in January 2018 and ending with Smith’s firing on March 8, 2020.
In January 2018, Smith said a manager reprimanded him for complaining about coworkers disrespecting his race and Jamaican heritage by making him tidy the stock room in their place.
That May, Smith alleges another manager told him to hide in a linen closet from the property’s general manager because Smith did not “look presentable,” though his uniform was neat, records show.
“If you don’t disappear, you’ll see what I’ll do,” the lawsuit claims the manager said.
A type two diabetic, Smith said his managers told him he could not take his medication at work and said things like, “I don’t care about diabetes” and “If you take your medication, you can go home,” court documents showed.
In January 2018, Smith had to rush to the nearest restroom while working in the hotel lobby. A manager saw him and reprimanded him for not using the employee bathroom across the resort, according to the lawsuit.
During an October 2019 shift, Smith asked to go home early because he felt faint. The manager refused, reportedly saying, “You don’t look sick,” the lawsuit claimed.
Later that month, Smith asserts another manager told him he had to keep his medication in the employee locker room before moving it to a locker out of Smith’s reach, according to court records.
The lawsuit alleges Smith’s requests fall under the reasonable accommodations required by federal law.
Smith said he hurt his back after another manager began assigning him extra work in November 2019, according to the lawsuit.
He met with management at least four times about the incidents and involved his union representative but claimed conditions did not improve, court records show.
In the lawsuit, Smith said neither his general manager nor Disney investigated the discrimination. He alleged the company fired him instead after managers falsely claimed he shirked tasks twice, records show.
He was suspended after the second time, on Feb. 13, 2020.
Smith said he was not given a written termination or an explanation for his firing beyond that he was a “liability,” according to the lawsuit. He claims he was never given the opportunity to return to work, even though another employee suspended on the same day, for the same reason, got their job back.
Jeremy Haicken, president of Unite Here Local 737 — the union that represents Disney’s housekeeping workers — said he was not familiar with Smith’s case.
Under the union’s contract, employees can be fired after a suspension for reasons with “just cause.” Supervisors must issue reprimands in writing and discuss them with the employee.
Smith filed a discrimination charge against Walt Disney World through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2020. The commission issued him a right to sue notice in November.