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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Transgender Woman Sues Burlington Coat Factory for Discrimination

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 8:10 PM

Maya Perez

A transgender woman filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the clothing chain Burlington Coat Factory in Superior Court Tuesday morning, alleging she had been harassed, groped, and shown pornography while working as a sales associate in the San Francisco store since starting her physical transition in 2001.


After years of alleged discrimination, she filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing in June 2007. On "multiple occasions" after that, staff failed to intervene when Maya Perez was harassed by customers, according to the suit. She was fired in January. 


"No transgender person should have to deal with this type of harassment at their workplace, especially in San Francisco," says Perez, a 42-year-old San Francisco resident. "It can be destructive to a person's psyche. I have depression and anxiety issues that are directly related to the treatment I received working there."


Perez started working at the store while presenting as a gay male in 1996. While some supervisors supported her decision to begin hormone treatments and undergo sex reassignment surgery in 2001, a senior manager told her it "was wrong because people would have moral or ethical problems with it and his grandmother wouldn't approve," Perez said on Tuesday.

Still Perez didn't want to quit. "I felt like I shouldn't have to leave my job, that I should be protected as an employee at my place of work," she said.  


The working conditions went downhill after that. Supervisors gave her porno magazines and photos, and touched her, according to the suit. She complained to superiors, but nothing was done. The San Francisco store and the regional human resources director denied to comment on Tuesday.


"We think it's appalling that right here in San Francisco, a city known for its large and diverse LGBT population, we have a national employer that utterly failing to meet its obligations under the law," says Elizabeth Kristen, one of the attorneys on Perez' legal team at the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center.  


According to the suit, the store forced her to continue to wear a name tag that said "Stevie," her male name, long after she started presenting as a woman. While Perez says that some staffers used nicknames on their name tags, the store wouldn't allow her to change her tag to "Maya" until she legally changed her name in 2003.  She was then made to reapply for her position with her new name.  "They almost treated her like a new employee, which I thought was very unusual," Kristen said.


In addition to alleged discrimination by the store staff, Perez also alleges that managers and security personnel would often do nothing to stop customers from calling Perez slurs such as "he-she," and "Mr. Bitch" or groping her, according to the suit.


The company policy banned discrimination based on sex, but didn't mention sexual orientation or gender identity as protected statuses. Perez complained to managers and the regional human resources director about the treatment, but neither investigated the complaint, as is company policy stated in the employee handbook, according to the lawsuit.


Perez says she's currently applying for unemployment and looking for other work. Perez is suing for damages, and asking to be rehired at the Coat Factory. Despite everything that allegedly happened, "I would take my job back," Perez said.

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Lauren Smiley


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