Transgender Chick-fil-A worker’s sexual harassment case may go to trial

Dive Brief:

  • A transgender former Chick-fil-A employee’s sexual harassment case may go before a jury, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ordered March 29. The court dismissed the worker’s allegations of discriminatory and retaliatory termination. 
  • The employee alleged she experienced a sexually discriminatory hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while working for a Chick-fil-A franchise in Decatur, Georgia, where co-workers repeatedly called her homophobic and transphobic names and misgendered her, according to court documents. 
  • The defendant, IJE Hospitality, LLC, argued the worker is heterosexual and thus was not subjected to sexual harassment by her co-workers, a claim the judge called “unsupported.” “What is important is whether the harassment the plaintiff suffered was based on traits that would not have drawn the same conduct had the plaintiff been a different sex,” the court wrote. “Here the plaintiff is a biological male attracted to males. Therefore, [the] comments … are without doubt based on the plaintiff’s sex.” 

Dive Insight:

Workplace harassment occurs when there is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity or pregnancy), national origin, older age, disability or genetic information, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

That conduct can include offensive jokes, name calling, threats or intimidation, among other things, EEOC said. 

Employers can be considered liable for the behavior of nonsupervisory workers when they knew, or should have known, about the harassment and didn’t take appropriate corrective action, EEOC said. 

In this case, a jury could find the IJE Hospitality liable because the employer didn’t take sufficient action to prevent the harassment from recurring, a magistrate judge said in a Jan. 24 recommendation. Despite the employee’s repeated reports of harassment to the owner, he only gave two of the alleged harassers disciplinary warnings and did not send them to anti-harassment training or try to limit their time working with the plaintiff, the magistrate judge said.