A COVID-19-related workplace dispute is brewing between a former lottery host and Raleigh-based television station WRAL.
Emelia Cowans-Taylor presented the winning North Carolina Education Lottery numbers three times a week, for 13 years, on WRAL TV. In a statement released Friday, WRAL said it fired Cowans-Taylor from her contract for "blatant disregard of the station’s essential health and safety protocols established during the COVID-19 pandemic."
The statement also said that "her conscious actions resulted in multiple quarantine actions for WRAL staff and contractors and in the aggregate put other's health at risk."
Cowans-Taylor disputes that characterization.
She told WUNC she had a headache but no other real symptoms. She said she got a COVID-19 test, “as a precaution” and went to work on Aug. 4, when she felt better. The test later came back positive.
"I did my shift, because I felt fine," Cowans-Taylor said. "I guess what you would consider asymptomatic for COVID, no fever, no cough."
Cowans-Taylor claims that WRAL had no "official" COVID-19 policy in place. She said she was aware of signs posted on the doors of the Capitol Broadcasting Company.
In the statement, WRAL says the signs are clear that every employee should check their temperature before leaving home for work each day. The signs also say: "Do not come to work if you are experiencing any of the following: A fever, that is a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, coughing, chills, trouble breathing."
Cowans-Taylor said she called WRAL to let her supervisors know after she received the positive COVID-19 test results on Aug. 5. She said when WRAL General Manager Joel Davis called back and fired her, she was shocked.
"I was accused of being egregious, irresponsible, putting the lives of my co-workers at risk," Cowans-Taylor said. "He said, 'You are terminated, and I will email you a copy of the letter as soon as we get off the phone.'"
Cowans-Taylor says she feels hurt for not being given the "luxury, privilege or courtesy to heal at home and know her job was secure."
She also posted a video on Facebook in which she claims that she was fired, in part, because she is Black.
In its statement, WRAL says it treated Cowans-Taylor no differently than it would any other individual who failed to adhere to the company's health and safety protocols. WRAL says she is the only worker who did not follow the protocols, a statement Cowans-Taylor questions.
"To be clear, the termination of Ms. Cowans contract, as is true with all other personnel actions within the company, was in no way racially motivated," the WRAL statement said.