A local gay hair stylist has filed a discrimination suit against his former employer, alleging he was penalized and eventually terminated for not conforming to male stereotypes.
Daniel Brant, 25, filed a suit in U.S. District Court July 30 against Chop Shop, which operates three local salons, claiming employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which offers protection based on gender.
Although Brant is openly gay, he said his employment problems did not stem from his sexuality, but rather from his appearance.
Brant, who graduated from Jean Madeline Aveda Institute, began working full-time as a stylist at Chop Shop’s Temple University location in February 2008.
Brant told PGN he was very satisfied with the company in his first few months of employment, but the more successful he became, he noticed a “gradual coldness” directed toward him from some employees and his supervisor.
In May, Brant said he approached his supervisor, identified as just “Monica” in the suit, to inquire about the change in atmosphere at the salon and was told he was “too flamboyant.” Brant said his supervisor then told him that he would not be permitted to wear shorts or shoes with a heel to work, which he often did.
The suit states that “similarly situated female Stylists were not similarly made to abide by said dress code, evidencing Defendant’s animus against Brant’s failure to conform to mail stereotypes.”
Brant noted that he is not transgender but that, since he was a teenager, he’s grown accustomed to dressing mostly in women’s clothing and often wearing mascara and blush.
“My intention is not to be perceived as a woman. I’m a very petite guy, with very soft feminine features, and I like to wear clothing that fits my body and my shape,” he said. “I will wear women’s Gap T-shirts or Express women’s dress pants and shoes with a wedge because that’s what I feel most comfortable in. That’s my everyday style and wardrobe since I was 16.”
The complaint states that Brant’s supervisor stopped sending him male clients, whom he said accounted for nearly 90 percent of his customers, and he was later informed that he was being transferred to Chop Shop’s South Street branch, where he would work just one day a week. According to the suit, Monica told him the clientele at this location was “more open-minded” and he’d “do better” working at that store.
The store scheduled Brant to work only on Sundays, which he said is the slowest and shortest day of the week.
While working full-time at the Temple shop, Brant said he made about $600 a week, as well as $30-$50 in tips per day. At the new location, he said he received between $30-$50 per week and an additional $15-$20 in tips.
Brant said he wore women’s shorts and shoes with a heel to work one day in July and his supervisor at the South Street store, identified in the suit as “Sue,” sent him home, citing instructions from the store’s owner, Kathy Thomas.
“It was really upsetting to me because I was missing another whole day of work, and I was just so embarrassed that they sent me home because of what I was wearing and what I look like,” he said.
Before returning to work the following week, Brant said he called Thomas and requested further clarification of the dress code.
The complaint states that Thomas told him she did not “want [him] to ruin [her] business” and that “it is okay for a girl to look like a dyke, but it is not socially acceptable for [Brant] to look like a girl.”
Brant said he told Thomas he felt he was being discriminated against and was considering filing a complaint.
Thomas terminated Brant on Aug. 3, 2008, after he referred a Chop Shop client to another salon at which he was also employed.
“A client came in and asked if we do eyebrow waxing, and I asked and they said no, so I told her, ‘There’s this other place in Old City where I work and they do it and they do a good job,’” he said.
Brant contacted the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations shortly after his firing. PCHR executive director Rue Landau confirmed that Brant filed a complaint on Aug. 15, 2008.
She said the commission conducted an “exhaustive investigation” and closed the case on March 20, determining the charges were not substantiated.
“We found that the case did not have any merit to it,” Landau said. “But even if we find that, all complainants have a right to sue.”
Salon owner Thomas said she could not comment on the situation, and her attorney did not return calls for comment.
Thomas told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, however, that she was not opposed to Brant’s dressing in women’s clothing, but only took issue with certain outfits, which she contends did not factor into his termination.
“If he had wanted to wear a dress, that would have been fine. But at one point, he was wearing Daisy Duke shorts. He was basically uncovered,” she said. “I fired him because he was working at another salon and telling his clients to go over there. I did not fire him because he was a cross-dresser.”
Susan Wexler, Brant’s attorney, refuted Thomas’ claim.
“It had to do with the clothing in which he presented himself,” Wexler said. “The owner of the Chop Shop deemed him too effeminate and didn’t approve of the clothing he was wearing, and that was the basis for his termination. It’s a clear gender-stereotyping claim; he could’ve shown up in men’s cargo shorts and polo shirts and that would’ve been fine, but not women’s.”
Since his termination, Brant said he had to quit his other job because he couldn’t afford to travel to work and has since applied for government assistance while he searches for a new position.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.