Watch: Hamburger Mary's Restaurant Owner Sues Florida Dept. of Health, Claims Anti-Gay Bias

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 3, 2019

The owner of several Hamburger Mary's restaurants in Florida who saw his business plummet and had to close up shop is now suing the state's Department of Health, alleging that the agency falsely claimed one of his employees had Hepatitis A - and asserting that the reason behind it was anti-gay bias.

As was reported here at EDGE earlier this year, the health department made the move last October. Owner Kurt King told the media at that time that he was closing the Ybor City location of the restaurant, even though it was eventually given the okay to reopen.

"It's just that it's been on the media day after day after day," King said.

King had been hoping to limit the negative impact on his larger business interests, but he indicated that his business was still feeling negative effects stemming from the Health Department's allegedly false claims.

"It costs me everything I own," King told ABC News last January. "I'm just trying to stay open at the other two locations, fighting for payroll, fighting to pay the food bills, fighting to pay everything... And I feel the health department did me wrong."

King also claimed that his business was singled out, noting that "Over 400 people in the state of Florida have Hepatitis A." The business owner asked, "Where do they all work at? Why weren't they put on the news? Why weren't their restaurants and businesses destroyed like mine?"

Now, in a followup, ABC News revisits the story to report that King has filed suit against the state's Department of Health, as well as the official in charge of the Hillsborough County Department of Health, claiming that they "treat homosexual persons differently as demonstrated by the false reporting of Hepatitis A."

King told ABC News, "We were definitely targeted for just being LGBTQ."

The businessman maintained that he had proof in the form of a test for the employee in question showing that he was not infected with Hepatitis A.

The Hillsborough Department of Health reportedly refused to disclose to the public the names and locations of four other eateries where employees known to be infected with the disease were working - a point that King zeroed in on, given that his business was cited by name.

Then there was the issue of how Holt made comments to ABC News in January that King and his lawyer construe as evidence for his anti-LGBTQ animus.

"Dr. Holt made statements to ABC Action News Wendy Ryan that, 'If you're going to fish, you have to go where the fish are.' and that '...the classic category is men having sex with men,' " attorney Gil Sanchez, who represents King, told ABC in the new report.

"That statement is, in our opinion, direct evidence of discrimination," Sanchez said, adding that it showed Holt was "utilizing his position of power was discriminating against the company of Hamburger Mary's."

King told ABC News, "Even though I'm a gay man and I'm 52 years old, I've never dealt with the thing that was said about me by Dr. Holt."

King said the suit was meant to protect the LGBTQ community as a whole from such attacks.

"This fight's not just about me," King said. "It's about my whole Hamburger Mary's family, the LGBT community.... what was done to me can be done to every single one of them."

The suit cites the ABC News report from January, the followup report notes.

Watch the ABC News video below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.