Maya Perez, a transgendered employee of a San Francisco franchise of Burlington Coat Factory, has filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer based on an interpretation of California’s 2004 Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Perez alleges that she was wrongfully terminated from her job after complaining on several occasions of harassment directed at her by both employees and customers. Perez–who was born a male named “Steven” but who transformed her gender identity beginning in 2001–alleges that she was the victim of pervasive and knowing harassment. She claims fellow employees groped her, called her slurs like “faggot,” and even physically assaulted her. In addition, she claims to have been the victim of customer aggression. In one instance, an angry customer threw a table at her; management did little to defend her.
Even after filing formal complaints with the company’s HR chief and the State’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Perez found no relief from the harassment. In January 2009, Burlington terminated her employment, provoking her to finally file a discrimination suit.
Perez’s case is one of only of a handful of transgender employment discrimination cases currently being litigated. Since plaintiffs, defendants, and judges alike seem to be swimming in uncharted legal waters, it will be interesting to watch whether Perez’s matter sets a precedent for how future transgender job discrimination cases might be handled.
In addition to seeking her job back, Perez is also asking for punitive damages, legal fees, and money to compensate for her distress and wages lost. Perez’s case is being handled by the San Francisco Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center, which also provides legal guidance for many plaintiffs in San Francisco’s gay and lesbian community.
Especially in light of California’s recent turn in the spotlight for its passage of Proposition 8 (banning homosexual marriages), this case will likely receive some serious media attention. After all, California has often been a bellwether state for antidiscrimination law; the verdict in this matter could presage how similar cases may be handed across the nation in the nest few years.