Restaurant Chain Subjected Transgender Employee to Sex Harassment, Then Fired Her for Complaining, Federal Agency Charges
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Bojangles Restaurants, Inc., a North Carolina corporation operating a chain of fast food restaurants in the Southeast, violated federal law by subjecting a transgender employee to a hostile work environment because of her gender identity, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. The lawsuit also alleges that Bojangles illegally fired the employee in retaliation for reporting the sexual harassment.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Jonathan Wolfe, a transgender woman who worked at one of the company's Fayetteville, N.C., restaurants, was repeatedly subjected to offensive comments about her gender identity and appearance. The belittling statements often demanded that Wolfe, who identifies and presents as a woman, engage in behavior and grooming practices that are stereotypically male, because that is the sex Wolfe was assigned at birth. The comments were made by the restaurant's manager and assistant managers. Wolfe reported these comments on at least two occasions, but the comments continued. Shortly after Wolfe's complaints, she was fired, the EEOC said, in retaliation for her complaints.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from sex discrimination, including harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination in the workplace. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Western Division (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Bojangles Restaurants, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:16-cv-00654-BO) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.
"All employees have the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment and gender stereotypes," said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC's Charlotte District. "Federal law provides transgender employees protection from sex discrimination in the workplace."
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.