Victoria Ramirez, a transgender woman living in Orange County, Calif., has filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Barnes & Noble, alleging that the booksellers' management refused to allow her to present as a woman at work, then fired her when she stopped complying, according to the Transgender Law Center.
In her suit filed Wednesday, Ramirez, who had worked at her local Barnes & Noble for six years, claims that when she told her managers she was transitioning, they barred her from wearing women's clothing, discussing her transition with coworkers, using female pronouns, or using the women's restroom.
At first attempting to appease management, she says she experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks, eventually leading her to tell them that she could no longer hide that she was a woman. A "devastated" Ramirez says management's subseqent decision to fire her resulted in "los[ing] my livelihood, my financial stability, and my confidence."
"I loved my job at Barnes & Noble," Ramirez told the Law Center. "I put myself through college working there. I thought this company shared my values of hard work, integrity, and respect for all people. But when I came out as transgender, they didn't live up to those values — instead they responded by mocking me and forcing me to hide who I really am."
The Law Center's executive director Kris Hayashi notes that Ramirez's experience is "particularly disturbing" when considering how proudly Barnes & Noble has touted its "perfect score" on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for the past seven years. In January, when Saks Fifth Avenue faced a similar federal lawsuit from trans woman Leyth O. Jamal, HRC took the unusual step of suspending the luxury retailer's index score.
Indeed, a statement from Barnes & Noble emailed to The Advocate points to the company's perfect score on HRC's Corporate Equality Index for the past seven years, while also noting, "We are very proud to employ a large number of transgender individuals, whom, like all employees are treated with dignity and respect."
"While it is our policy not to comment directly on individual employees, it is important to point out that Barnes & Noble has a history of supporting and employing transgender individuals," said the statement from Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating. "When an employee informs us that he or she will be transitioning, we work directly with the employee to provide the support they need to feel comfortable in the work place. We also work with the other employees and managers in our stores to ensure they are educated about the transition process and what to expect. In addition, under Barnes & Noble’s workplace benefits, the company pays for transition surgery, hormone therapy, counseling and other necessary medical assistance."
Citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ramirez's suit claims she faced unlawful discrimination based on her gender expression and identity. In December, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would begin interpreting antitrans employment discrimination to be a violation of Title VII's provisions against sex discrimination.
Since then, federal suits from trans employees who have faced alleged discrimination have emerged with increasing success, with Lousiana trans man Tristan Broussard suing First Tower Loan, LLC, in April, and suits against the U.S. Army, Forever 21, and Orlando, Florida's Lakeland Eye Clinic making headlines this year. In March, the DOJ for the first time sued an employer, Southern Oklahoma State University, for allegedly discriminating against a trans professor.
Barnes & Noble has 30 days to formally respond after being served with the complaint.