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Walmart may have taken a stand against discriminatory legislation, but that message of acceptance hasn't trickled down to its entire staff. The retailer is being sued for harassing and firing a transgender employee, its third discrimination lawsuit in the past five months.
A former employee sued Walmart in July for denying health insurance her same-sex spouse, and in August six former employees sued for race and age discrimination. The latest lawsuit alleges that a manager harassed and then fired a transgender employee because of her gender identity.
Samantha Azzarano was, by all accounts, a model service associate. She was hired at a New Jersey Walmart in September 2012 and in January 2013 she informed a manager that she is transgender and began outwardly expressing her gender identity. There were no problems until a different manager, Sheena Wyckoff, came on board.
According to Azzarano's lawsuit, Wyckoff called to Azzarano "Samantha, Robert [her birth name]...he/she...whatever," and "that f*cking tranny," and also told Azzarano that "we are always walking on eggshells for you." The harassment escalated until Azzarano was fired in June of 2014. Azzarano is asking for her job to be reinstated and back pay.
Fortunately for Azzarano, New Jersey is one of 19 states and Washington D.C. with anti-discrimination laws that explicitly cover transgender employees. While there is no federal statute prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that transgender discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans sex-based discrimination.
Small businesses can avoid LGBT discrimination lawsuits by having a clear non-discrimination policy in place and training staff and managers on the policy and how to be accommodating to gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. You should also make sure the policy is applied consistently and that all allegations of discrimination are investigated promptly and comprehensively.
If your small business doesn't already have a comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policy, an experienced employment law attorney can help you craft and implement one.
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