The federal government said Wednesday it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a transgender woman fired from a Fayetteville, North Carolina Bojangles fast food restaurant.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said the restaurant violated federal law by subjecting the employee to a hostile work environment because of her gender identity.
The lawsuit states that the employee, named as Jonathan Wolfe, a transgender woman, was repeatedly subjected to offensive comments about her gender identity and appearance.
This includes statements made by management demanding that Wolfe, who identifies and presents as a woman, engage in behavior and grooming practices that are stereotypically male. Wolfe reported the comments on at least two occasions, but it did not stop the behavior from his employer, the lawsuit contends.
Wolfe’s supervisor made comments telling her to “pray to God or go to hell” and that “God made woman for man.,” WRAL reports.
Shortly after Wolfe’s complaints, she was fired, the EEOC said, in retaliation for her complaints. They report that this behavior violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from sex discrimination, including harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination in the workplace.
Wolfe was involuntarily transferred after the complaints, WRAL reports, and then went back to the store where she originally worked as a customer and was told to leave. This prompted a call to the Bojangles employee hotline and after that call, Wolfe’s supervisor fired her.
“All employees have the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment and gender stereotypes,” said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District. “Federal law provides transgender employees protection from sex discrimination in the workplace.”
Bojangles spokesman Brian Little says the company policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and all other protected characteristics and that their decision to terminate Wolfe was due to insubordination and other misconduct, not sex or gender identity.
The lawsuit is seeking back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory actions by Bojangles in the future.