Law Offices of Louis Spitters

Forever 21 under fire for employment discrimination by ex worker

Some major changes may be occurring for employees who are being harassed in the workplace due to their gender identity. The U.S. Attorney General recently indicated that going forward, the Justice Department will begin considering transgender workers to be covered under the Civil Rights Act for employment discrimination. An employee who worked for California-based Forever 21 took a stand against the unfair treatment that she claims to have received because of her gender identity.

The transgender worker started at the company as a male at one of the retailer's locations in another state as a sales associate and was later promoted to a visual merchandiser. Three years later, he began the transition to become a woman and started dressing the part, including wearing makeup. The plaintiff claims this is when the discriminatory behavior began.

The plaintiff's male supervisors allegedly made derogatory comments. They allegedly called her a "hot mess" and told her that her looks were offensive and disgusting. She was also told that she would not be recognized as a woman until the gender was changed on her birth certificate. When she began dressing like a woman -- in what she believed was compliant with the company dress policy -- she alleges she was told what she was wearing was inappropriate even though other women were dressed similarly. She was later fired after being told that she worked hard when she was a man, but doesn't now that she is a woman.

The plaintiff filed a federal employment discrimination claim against Forever 21, accusing the company of violating the New York State Human Rights Act for harassing her due to her gender identity. It is illegal for employers in California and elsewhere to create a hostile work environment or otherwise discriminate against employees based on characteristics that are protected by the law. Similarly situated workers may choose to file claims and possibly be awarded damages for the mental duress they suffer as the result of any wrongful conduct, including lost wages and reinstatement if the situation applies.

Source: Fortune, "Forever 21 sued for transgender discrimination", Claire Zillman, April 2, 2015

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