Teresa Cross plans to file complaint under Cowtown’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which was amended to include gender identity in 2009
FORT WORTH — Teresa Cross has been a frequent shopper at the Dollar General store near her home since last fall.
But when she went into the store on Saturday, Nov. 3, she said she was kicked out of the store after she corrected an employee about her gender identity.
Now Cross says she plans to file a complaint under the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which was amended to include transgender protections following the Rainbow Lounge raid three years ago. She also said she’s looking into the possibility of filing a lawsuit against Dollar General and hopes the company will learn from the ridicule she endured and make employees undergo sensitivity training.
“They just don’t know any better and they need to be educated,” she said, adding that no one should have to go through a similar experience. “I think I have restitution coming to me for pain and suffering and humiliation.”
Joel Mallory, Cross’ attorney, said he is reviewing her case to decide the best approach. There is no state or federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity — or even gender — in public accommodations.
Dollar General did not respond to phone calls or emails requesting a comment by press time.
Cross said she stopped in the store at 1000 Sycamore School Road, grabbed a few items and headed for the register. She overheard store clerks mentioning one register may be cash only, so when she was next in line, she asked if she could use her debit card.
A female employee standing next to Cross told the clerk behind the register that “he” could try to check out with his card, referring to Cross as male.
Cross immediately corrected the employee, telling her that she’s a she, not a he. The employee said she wasn’t talking to Cross, but to the other employee. Cross said she told the employee that referring to her as a male was insulting and offered to show her documentation of her gender identity on her driver’s license. The employee then replied, “I call it like I see it.”
Cross, who said she has been presenting as a woman for seven years, has long hair and was dressed as a woman. She was wearing makeup and a T-shirt with Capri pants. She said it was obvious she was a woman.
“I look like a woman. Why would she single me out and be so rude?” Cross said. “For them to be that rude to me just doesn’t make sense.”
Cross said the cashier looked puzzled at the exchange between her and the other employee. So Cross told the cashier to forget what her co-worker had said.
“I said, “Don’t pay any attention to her because she’s a bigot,’” Cross said. “At that moment, [the other employee] then took the basket away from me and said: ‘You’re not buying anything here. You can leave now.’ So I walked out.”
Cross left and later called the Dollar General customer service line, registering a complaint on the phone. She said the complaint reached the district manager, who said she would investigate it. Cross received a verbal apology and was told that the employee made her leave because she was causing a scene, not because she was trans.
She said the conversation that led up to her being asked to leave indicated it was based on her being trans and that the employee didn’t want to recognize her identity.
Her complaint then went to the corporate level and she received another verbal apology. She was told that disciplinary action had been taken against the employee.
The city of Fort Worth has had a nondiscrimination ordinance since 2000 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations such as retail stores. In 2009, gender identity was added to the ordinance in a controversial vote that followed the Rainbow Lounge raid.
Angela Rush, Fort Worth’s human resources administrator, said Fort Worth handles discrimination complaints differently than Dallas.
Dallas’ Fair Housing Office investigates all complaints before handing them over to the city attorney’s office for a final determination about whether to prosecute.
Under Fort Worth’s ordinance, depending on whether a complaint involves housing, employment or public accommodations, it is referred to a human resources division.
After an investigation, Rush reviews the file and makes a final decision on whether discrimination took place.
Fort Worth also has a Human Relations Commission, which will hear discrimination cases if complainants want to make the commission aware of their situation. In housing cases, complainants can appeal to the commission to review the final decision as an appeal if they think the wrong decision was made, Rush said.
Data for the 2012 fiscal year included three cases filed under sexual orientation. Rush said since trans protections were added, only one complainant came forward. But the complainant ended up filing under sex discrimination instead of transgender discrimination.
Dollar General Corp. received a score of 45 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign 2013 Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies according to their LGBT-related policies and procedures. That’s a major improvement from its score of zero last year, according to Deena Fidas, deputy director of HRC’s Workplace Project.
Fidas said Dollar General didn’t participate in the CEI survey last year and HRC couldn’t find any inclusive policies or benefits through its own research. The new score is based on the company’s nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, along with some “soft benefits” for domestic partners and an employer-supported resource group.
“A zero to a 45 is a significant jump. There’s certainly room for them to grow in their rating, especially in the area of equitable benefits,” she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 23, 2012.