A former employee of Publix is suing, alleging that she was forced to cut her hair short to get a job there, and then no one did anything as her coworkers harassed her with slurs like “shim” and “sissy he-she.” She claims she was eventually fired as a result of the constant harassment.
Kevin Whitter got a job as a cashier at a Publix in Miami in 2018, and she faced so much harassment at work that she had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized, according to her suit filed in federal court this week.
The suit alleges that the mistreatment started just after she was hired when she was forced to cut her hair short to fit the grocery store’s male uniform policy and was told she couldn’t wear a women’s uniform because she “was not a female and [Publix] is not interested in confusing [its] customers.”
Whitter’s drivers license says that she is female but she cut her hair and wore the men’s uniform because she needed the job, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
She was also told by management not to use the women’s bathroom because she “would scare the women because you look like a man and you are a man, and you aren’t female by Publix’ standards.”
In the months that followed, her coworkers allegedly attacked and harassed her, calling her “he-she,” “shim,” “Ms. Thing,” “Kevinisha,” and “Kiki.”
A deli worker at the store even grabbed her butt while she was walking and said she just wanted to feel if she was wearing “booty pads.”
A manager later told her to wear a compression bra because her “appearance is embarrassing our department and this company and bringing negative attention.”
“Why can’t you be like the other gay people here?” the manager allegedly said. “Be gay and keep it to yourself.”
The harassment allegedly continued until a day in 2019 when another manager told her, “We don’t tolerate homosexuals in my country.” She admits she yelled back in anger, but then she was escorted out of the store by a security guard.
“Get the [expletive] out of Publix, you sissy he-she,” she said the guard told her, slamming the door on her finger.
Whitter said that she had a nervous break down after months of abuse and was forced to check in to a mental health hospital for treatment for three days. When she got out of the hospital, she found a phone message telling her she was fired.
Her lawsuit says that she has since been diagnosed with depression and has suicidal thoughts as a result of the months of harassment. She already filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which gave her a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
Whitter is accusing the store of illegally discriminating against her under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination “because of sex.” Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County decision that the law bans discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Publix is refusing to comment on pending litigation. The chain has faced numerous allegations of anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination lately, settling some of the suits out of court.