Trans woman says managers allowed other workers, customers to harass her for 7 years and some supervisors participated in harassment
The Legal Aid Society â€“ Employment Law Center on Tuesday, Feb. 24, filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Maya Perez, charging Burlington Coat Factory with sexual harassment and discrimination.
Perez charges management and staff at the company’s San Francisco store with seven years’ worth of harassment and mistreatment based on her status as a transgender woman.
In a statement released Tuesday by LAS-ELC, Perez and her attorneys said they hope that this action against Burlington "will help raise awareness both about the challenges faced by transgender individuals in the workplace and about employers’ duties to prevent such abuse and protect their employees when it does occur."
According to the statement, Perez — then known as Steven Wickes-Perez — decided in 2001 to undergo sex reassignment surgery and began to transition from male to female, believing at the time that her employer would be supportive of her decision.
Perez said that one of her supervisors encouraged her to transition, "but then when I talked to senior Burlington management about it, I was told that it was wrong."
Perez’s lawsuit claims that over the next seven years, management at the store fostered an environment that was openly hostile. She said her supervisors subjected her to graphic sexualized conversations; one supervisor presented her with pornography; co-workers grabbed and touched her breasts, buttocks and genitals; and customers were allowed to physically and verbally assault her.
Despite Perez’s numerous complaints, the company’s management failed to intervene, according to the statement released Tuesday.
"It seemed as if their attitude was that it was okay for me to be treated that way because I am a transgender person," Perez said in the statement released Tuesday. "No other employee was treated the way that I was."
Elizabeth Kristen, one of the lawyers representing Perez in the lawsuit, said: "San Francisco is noted for its tolerance, yet Ms. Perez’s experience at Burlington Coat Factory shows that we still have work to do. A large percentage of transgender individuals living in the Bay Area have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace, which contributes to a high rate of unemployment among this population. It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed."
According to the statement announcing the lawsuit, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of how widespread the problem of harassment of or discrimination against transgender people is because "many transgender individuals refrain from disclosing information about their gender identity or transition out of fear that doing so will result in precisely the kind of treatment that Ms. Perez experienced."
However, a 2006 survey conducted jointly by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Transgender Law Center indicated that of the 194 transgender individuals surveyed, more than 24 percent had been sexually harassed at work and more than 57 percent had experienced discrimination.
Only 12 percent of these individuals, however, had filed an administrative or civil complaint about their workplace experiences.
LAS-ELC also noted that many transgender workers do not report incidents of harassment or discrimination because they are unaware that California’s workplace anti-discrimination law was expanded in 2004 to include protections based on gender identity.