Trans woman sues Starbucks for workplace harassment and discrimination

A former Starbucks employee in California is suing the company and her former bosses for workplace harassment and discrimination experienced after she began transitioning.

In her complaint, Maggie Wade said her manager Dustin Guthrie suddenly changed the way he behaved towards her after she disclosed she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2017 and would start hormone therapy and undergo facial feminisation surgery.

She said he initially told her was struggling with the idea of her transitioning due to his religious beliefs—he identified as a Christian—which he openly professed on social media such as Twitter and Youtube, where he kept a video blog.

Customers sit on the patio of a Starbucks store on May 29, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois (Scott Olson/Getty)

He then kept using male terms to address her, reduced her working hours and stalled a promised promotion, to the point that she left for another store.

In the new location, Wade said she faced discrimination from customers who addressed her as “sir” and “man” and that her concerns on the matter were dismissed by her supervisor who “laughed about it.” A meeting she had requested with Starbucks’ district manager to discuss her experience under Guthrie also did not materialise as expected. After discussing the situation with her gender therapist, Wade decided to resign.

“I loved my friends and colleagues at Starbucks and expected to have a long-term career with the company,” she said in a statement quoted in local news outlet The Fresno Bee. “It was humiliating to come to work every day and be treated with no dignity or respect. I never would have expected this kind of behaviour from a fellow employee who failed to represent the culture and ethics that have come to embody Starbucks as a global brand.”

Wade’s lawsuit isn’t the only one Starbucks is facing for transphobic discrimination—a trans man in Minnesota sued the company alleging his colleagues began treating him differently after he transitioned. The lawsuit was initially thrown out, but an appeals court ruled in December that he is allowed to sue. In June, the company announced it would start paying for trans employees’ transitions.

Wade had been working for Starbucks for nine years. When she left the company, she lost her health insurance and access to the medical provisions she needed to complete her transition.

A customer pays for his purchase at a Starbucks store October 3, 2006 in Park Ridge, Illinois (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

The lawsuit is claiming an unspecified amount of damages and is supplemented with a series of screenshots of transphobic posts Guthrie had shared on his social media accounts. These included numerous references to Caitlyn Jenner in which he addressed her with the name Bruce. In one instance, he wrote Jenner did not want to identify as a woman, but to  “cross dress without being judged.”

Wade’s lawyer told the Fresno Bee that Starbucks failed to protect their employee “when she was at her most vulnerable.” A spokesperson for Starbucks told the news outlet they encourage employees to alert their local leadership if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work.

“At Starbucks, we strive to create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome and have zero tolerance for the harassment of our partners or customers,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.