Trans Employee Sues Starbucks for Discrimination

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A former Fresno, Calif., Starbucks employee has filed suit against the coffee chain for harassment and discrimination she claims she received during her gender transition, reports The Fresno Bee.

Maddie Wade alleges that manager Dustin Guthrie reduced her hours and discriminated against her after she disclosed she was transitioning, forcing her to resign this year due to "intolerable conditions," according to the suit, filed in Fresno Superior Court. At the time she was planning to start hormone therapy and have facial feminization surgery.

“It was humiliating to come to work every day and be treated with no dignity or respect," Wade said in a statement to the Bee. "I never would have expected this kind of behavior from a fellow employee who failed to represent the culture and ethics that have come to embody Starbucks as a global brand.”

Now she's seeking damages from Starbucks, alleging the loss of her job and health insurance effectively stopped her transition, causing more gender dysphoria.

“I loved my friends and colleagues at Starbucks and expected to have a long-term career with the company,” said Wade, who joined Starbucks nine years ago and worked her way up to supervisor. 

Her lawsuit says that in 2016 she was transferred to a northwest Fresno location that had a reputation as "the worst Starbucks in town." While she worked under multiple managers, the store's performance and reputation improved, she says. When Gunthrie became manager last year, they worked well together at first, taking the store from the bottom three in the area to one of the top three, according to her suit. He even offered to take her “under his wing” and promote her to assistant manager.

When Wade revealed she identified as a woman and wanted to be referred to as such, she asked Guthrie if she could work the same amount of hours and a similar schedule so she could keep her medical appointments regarding her transition.

The next day, Guthrie, who had previously told Wade he was Christian and wanted a career in politics, told her he was struggling to understand her transition. Her hours were cut, and Guthrie continued to refer to her by her previous name and male pronouns, according to her suit. 

Guthrie also posted transphobic messages on Facebook, included in the suit, such as one with a picture of actor John Wayne and the text “Cutting off your pecker does not make you a woman. It just makes you a guy that cut off his damn pccker." He also claimed Caitlin Jenner was someone who just wanted to “cross-dress without being judged.” 

When Wade told him she felt punished for being transgender, he denied that he was punishing her, according to the suit. When she also told Guthrie that customers were demeaning her by intentionally misgendering her, he “dismissively laughed about it,” the suit contends.

On the advice of her therapist, Wade resigned in June. She's been unable to seek further prescribed therapy because she lost her insurance with her job. The complaint says she would have never begun transitioning without a secure job, income, and health care.

"At Starbucks, we strive to create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome and have zero tolerance for the harassment of our partners or customers. We encourage all of our partners to alert their local leadership the moment they feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work," a Starbucks spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Advocate, "In those instances where partners don’t want to speak with their manager or choose to remain anonymous, we have processes in place that allow them to provide details over phone, email or fax."

The coffee franchize closed all of its U.S. stores for diversity training this May 29. “The objective of closing our stores and utilizing that day for training is to affirm that Starbucks is a welcoming place for everyone," Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in a statement.

Employees took to the online forums to criticize the day of training as "4 hours of filler with no substance, a bread sandwich if you will..." and "pretty shallow."

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