Victoria Ramirez spent six years working at two Barnes & Noble stores in Orange County, California. When she informed her managers she was going to begin her gender transition from male to female in a company that has a seven year run of perfect scores on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, can you guess what the company’s response was?
The managers responded by prohibiting Ms Ramirez from working as a woman and then firing her when she protested.
And once again, just as in the recent Saks Fifth Avenue trans discrimination case they settled out of court with Leyth Jamal, the company doing the transphobic discriminating has bragged about having a perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index.
An Equality Index that trans people have pointed out to the Human Rights Campaign has some glaring flaws when it comes to trans people, and here’s another example of trans folks falling though the cracks of it..
Ms Ramirez was subjected to harassment regarding her gender identity and expression, berated by her manager about her long hair, makeup, and nail polish, told her appearance was inappropriate for a “family store” and that she should “think of the children.”
When she came out as trans*, managers set impossible conditions for Ms. Ramirez, essentially forbidding her to transition. They told her she was not allowed to wear women’s clothing, discuss her transition with her co-workers, use female pronouns to identify herself, or use the women’s bathroom.
Overwhelmed by the pressure to hide her female gender identity at work, Ms. Ramirez began to experience on-going panic attacks and severe anxiety. When she told her manager she couldn’t hide who she was any longer, she was fired.
“I loved my job at Barnes & Noble,” said Ramirez. “I put myself through college working there. I thought this company shared my values of hard work, integrity, and respect for all people. But when I came out as transgender, they didn’t live up to those values – instead they responded by mocking me and forcing me to hide who I really am. After giving six years of my life to Barnes & Noble, I was devastated when I was fired simply for being myself. I lost my livelihood, my financial stability, and my confidence.”
Yesterday Transgender Law Center, Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, and the Law Offices of G. Samuel Cleaver filed suit against Barnes & Noble, Inc. for its discriminatory treatment of Ms. Ramirez.
“The law is clear: no one should be targeted for humiliation and harassment at work and ultimately lose their job because of who they are,” said Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. “It’s unacceptable for any employee to go through what Victoria experienced at Barnes & Noble, and it’s particularly disturbing given the public image the company has cultivated around its support for LGBT people. Unfortunately, this case illustrates the fact that discrimination against transgender employees is still all too common, leading to sky-high rates of unemployment and poverty in our community.”
Guess those Barnes & Noble managers haven’t heard (or chose to ignore the fact) that California prohibits discrimination against trans people. They will also find out the hard way that Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment, has been widely interpreted in recent years by courts and federal agencies to protect transgender employees.
Just last month the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a landmark decision in Lusardi v. McHugh, a case that was also brought by the Transgender Law Center.
Lusardi v. McHugh held that denying access to restrooms and refusing to use pronouns consistent with the employee’s gender identity constitutes unlawful discrimination. Ms. Ramirez’s suit is brought under California law, which includes an explicit prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
And this is also a prime example of why non-discrimination laws with gender identity and expression protections matter.
Sad that once again, another company is going to learn the painful lesson that discrimination costs you money, and they are going to have the pay the trans lady for the pain and suffering they unnecessarily inflicted on her.