Lawsuit Alleges Gender Identity Discrimination Under New York City and State Laws

A lawsuit filed in a New York City federal court against a major supermarket chain alleges gender identity discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. King v. Whole Foods Market Grp, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-02453, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Apr. 2, 2016). The plaintiff, a transgender man, claims that co-workers and supervisors routinely mocked and harassed him regarding his gender identity. He further claims that supervisors and managers retaliated against him after he complained about the harassment, resulting in a “toxic environment” that compelled him to quit his job. Id. at 6. His lawsuit asserts causes of action under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).

Employment discrimination on the basis of sex or gender is unlawful under anti-discrimination statutes at the federal level, in every state, and in cities and counties all over the country. Both the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL expressly prohibit gender discrimination in employment. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(a), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a). Discrimination based on gender identity does not necessarily fall under prohibitions on gender discrimination. Court decisions in several jurisdictions have held that gender identity discrimination is a form of unlawful sex or gender discrimination, but this view of anti-discrimination statutes is not yet widespread.

Unlike many anti-discrimination laws, the NYCHRL expressly addresses gender identity discrimination. It defines “gender” to include a person’s “actual or perceived sex” and their mode of appearance or behavior, regardless of whatever is “traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to that person at birth.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(23).

The plaintiff in King worked at the defendant’s store location in Chelsea, Manhattan for about six months, according to his complaint. Prior to his employment there, he had legally changed his name and begun hormone therapy, so he “expected to be treated as a male.” King, complaint at 2. He claims that he informed the store’s management of his gender identity and that they told him that “the supermarket was LGBT friendly.” Id. at 3.

The first act of discrimination allegedly occurred when a person in the human resources office refused to accept the court order changing his name, insisting that he produce a name change form from the Social Security Administration. Once he completed training and began work, he alleges that co-workers and supervisors repeatedly referred to him as “she,” “her,” or “it.” Id. This behavior escalated, the plaintiff claims, until he made multiple complaints to the store manager.

Aside from sending several managers and supervisors to “sensitivity training,” id., the plaintiff alleges that the store took no action in response to his complaints. The store manager also allegedly refused to create a written record of any of the plaintiff’s complaints. Supervisors retaliated against him, he claims, by ignoring him when he came to work and asked for assignments, then chastising him for being in the wrong place when he found work to do on his own. A manager offered to move him to a different store, which the plaintiff calls “punish[ing] the only innocent person in order to avoid addressing the offending staff and managers.” Id. at 6.

Phillips & Associates’ sex discrimination lawyers advocate for the rights of job applicants and employees in New York City, helping them assert claims for violations of city, state, and federal laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Rules that Federal Antidiscrimination Law Applies to Gender Identity and Expression, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 20, 2016

How New York City’s New Gender Identity Discrimination Guidelines Affect Restrooms in the Workplace, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 10, 2016

New Guidance from New York City Human Rights Commission on Gender Identity and Expression Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 25, 2016

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