News (USA)

Judge says repeatedly misgendering a trans employee isn’t necessarily harassment

Maddie Wade, transgender, Starbucks, discrimination, trans, Fresno, lawsuit
Maddie Wade Photo: Facebook: Maddie Wade

A Fresno County Judge has tentatively ruled that transgender woman Maddie Wade didn’t experience “discrimination” or “harassment” when her Starbucks manager repeatedly misgendered her and cut her work hours after Wade began medically transitioning.

Wade, a 19-year employee with the coffee chain, alleged that her manager Dustin Guthrie repeatedly called her “bro” and “dude” in front of other customers and co-workers after she began transitioning. After she complained, Guthrie allegedly cut Wade’s hours and told her to quit, driving Wade to transfer to another location.

Wade eventually quit Starbucks, on the advice of her therapist, to protect her mental health. When Wade quit, she lost her medical benefits, had to stop transitioning, and slid into severe gender dysphoria, “the distress someone feels when their physical gender does not match the gender they identify with,” according to the Fresno Bee.

But in her tentative ruling issued last Thursday, Superior Court judge Kimberly Gaab wrote, “To the extent the working conditions under [manager Dustin Guthrie] were intolerable, Starbucks remedied the situation by granting plaintiff’s request to transfer.”

“Additionally,” Gaab wrote, “the evidence shows that the conditions at (the manager’s) store were not so intolerable. There was testimony of some leering and intimidating behavior by (the manager), but this was directed at all employees, not just plaintiff.”

Gaab agreed that Guthrie had violated Starbuck’s policies that forbid misgendering of trans employees. However, Gaab said that violating Starbucks’ policy doesn’t meet the legal standard for harassment under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

While FEHA prohibits workplace discrimination, harassment and retaliation, it also says employers must “take reasonable steps to prevent and correct wrongful behavior in the workplace.” In this case, Gaab says Starbucks took reasonable steps to prevent Wade from being harassed any further.

Wade says Starbucks allowed the harassment to continue for several months, which was unreasonable.

Related: Florida gov. Rick Scott chased out Starbucks by furious woman: “You’re an a**hole!”

Wade’s attorney Arnold Peter says Gaab has agreed to review the evidence and issue a final ruling in the next few days. If the judge doesn’t change her ruling, Wade and her attorney will file an appeal.

The Advocate reports that Guthrie also posted transphobic comments on Facebook, like, “Cutting off your pecker does not make you a woman. It just makes you a guy that cut off his damn pecker.”

Starbucks said it would gladly re-employ Wade if she wants. It’s unclear whether Starbucks has fired or reprimanded Guthrie for violating their anti-discrimination policies.

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