A six-year employee of an Irvine Barnes & Noble store is suing the parent company for alleged discrimination because, she claims, when she informed management she was undergoing gender transition from male to female, her bosses prohibited her from working as a woman and after she protested they fired her.
The Transgender Law Center, Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, and the Law Offices of G. Samuel Cleaver filed the lawsuit May 6 in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Victoria Ramirez, according to Jill Marcellus of the San Francisco-based law center.
"I loved my job at Barnes & Noble," Ramirez told the law center of her tenure at the Woodbridge Square Shopping Center store at 4600 Barranca Parkway, Irvine. "I put myself through college working there. I thought this company shared my values of hard work, integrity and respect for all people. But when I came out as transgender, they didn't live up to those values–instead they responded by mocking me and forcing me to hide who I really am. After giving six years of my life to Barnes & Noble, I was devastated when I was fired simply for being myself. I lost my livelihood, my financial stability and my confidence."
Marcellus noted that Barnes & Noble has touted its "perfect score" on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for the past seven years. But Ramirez's complaint alleges her manager berated her about her long hair, makeup and nail polish, saying her appearance was inappropriate for a "family store" and that she should "think of the children."
Ramirez claims that when she came out as transgender, she was not allowed to wear women's clothing, discuss her transition with her co-workers, use female pronouns to identify herself or use the women's restroom. She claims to have suffered on-going panic attacks and severe anxiety from the work pressures, and when she told her manager she couldn't hide who she was any longer, she was fired.
"The law is clear: no one should be targeted for humiliation and harassment at work and ultimately lose their job because of who they are," says Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, in a statement. "It's unacceptable for any employee to go through what Victoria experienced at Barnes & Noble, and it's particularly disturbing given the public image the company has cultivated around its support for LGBT people. Unfortunately, this case illustrates the fact that discrimination against transgender employees is still all too common, leading to sky-high rates of unemployment and poverty in our community."
Ramirez's lawyers cite Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment and has been widely interpreted in recent years by courts and federal agencies to protect transgender employees, and California law, which includes an explicit prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
Barnes & Noble Inc., which has 30 days to respond after service of the complaint, emailed a statement to The Advocate that says, "We are very proud to employ a large number of transgender individuals, whom, like all employees are treated with dignity and respect." The company also pointed to its HRC Corporate Equality Index perfect scores.
"While it is our policy not to comment directly on individual employees, it is important to point out that Barnes & Noble has a history of supporting and employing transgender individuals," the statement from Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating reportedly says. "When an employee informs us that he or she will be transitioning, we work directly with the employee to provide the support they need to feel comfortable in the work place. We also work with the other employees and managers in our stores to ensure they are educated about the transition process and what to expect. In addition, under Barnes & Noble's workplace benefits, the company pays for transition surgery, hormone therapy, counseling and other necessary medical assistance."