When Barnes & Noble employee Victoria Ramirez told her bosses she was transitioning from male to female, the company prohibited her from working as a woman, then fired her when she complained.
Those are the allegations in an employment discrimination lawsuit filed this month on Ramirez’s behalf by Transgender Law Center, Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, and the Law Offices of G. Samuel Cleaver.
When Ramirez, who worked for six years at two Barnes & Noble stores in Orange County, California, informed store management that she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female, managers began harassing her, according to the complaint.
Ramirez’s suit is brought under California law, which includes an explicit prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
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Ramirez claims her managers berated her about her long hair, makeup, and nail polish, saying her appearance was inappropriate for a “family store” and that she should “think of the children.”
When Ramirez came out as transgender, managers set stringent conditions for her to meet, essentially forbidding her to transition, according to the complaint. Ramirez claims her managers told her she was not allowed to wear women’s clothing, discuss her transition with her co-workers, use female pronouns to identify herself, or use the women’s bathroom.
Ramirez, the complaint states, felt overwhelmed by the pressure to hide her gender identity at work and experienced persistent panic attacks and severe anxiety. Ramirez alleges that she was fired when she told her manager the restrictions on her appearance at work were making her ill.
“I loved my job at Barnes & Noble. I put myself through college working there. I thought this company shared my values of hard work, integrity and respect for all people,” Ramirez said in a statement following the filing of the complaint. “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. After giving six years of my life to Barnes & Noble, I was devastated when I was fired simply for being myself. I lost my livelihood, my financial stability, and my confidence.”
Barnes & Noble has for the past seven years received a “perfect score” on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
“The law is clear: No one should be targeted for humiliation and harassment at work and ultimately lose their job because of who they are,” Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable for any employee to go through what Victoria experienced at Barnes & Noble, and it’s particularly disturbing given the public image the company has cultivated around its support for LGBT people.”
Courts and federal agencies interpret Title VII, the federal law that prevents sex discrimination in employment, in a wide variety of ways when it comes to protecting transgender workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2012 issued the landmark decision Macy v. Holder, which held that discrimination based on transgender status was a form of unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.
Then in December 2014, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum recognizing transgender people as protected under Title VII.
The EEOC last month issued another influential decision in Lusardi v. McHugh, a case brought by Transgender Law Center. That decision held that denying access to restrooms and refusing to use pronouns consistent with the employee’s gender identity constitutes unlawful discrimination.
Barnes & Noble has not yet responded to the complaint.