Trans woman sues Dunkin’ Donuts

A trans woman of color has filed suit against a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, claiming a hostile work environment prevented her from doing her job correctly and resulted in her illegal firing.

From March 2018 to May 2018, “Jane Doe” worked as a cashier at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the 200 block of West Fourth Street in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is a city located about 48 miles northwest of Philadelphia in the Lehigh Valley, with about 75,000 residents. It has an LGBT-inclusive anti-bias law.

Doe’s federal lawsuit claims she was subjected to anti-LGBT slurs shortly after she began working at the donut shop. Slurs hurled at her by co-workers and customers include “f–king fa—t,” “tra–y,” “dude,” “b—h,” and “ni–a.” 

Doe alleges that because co-workers routinely misgendered her, customers would do so as well, despite her protests. Doe also was denied use of the store’s female restroom, after a customer complained about her using the facility, according to the suit.

In one incident, a customer refused to interact with Doe at the cash register. “I don’t want him serving me at the register,” the customer allegedly told managers. As a result, Doe was temporarily moved to the rear of the store, where she was out of the view of the customer. “[Management] acceded to the harassment and discrimination,” according to the lawsuit.

In another incident, a customer complained of Doe’s request to be referred to as a woman. A store manager sided with the customer and did not correct the person, according to the lawsuit.

The manager subsequently told federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigators that it wouldn’t be appropriate to correct a customer about Doe’s gender. “Our customers are our number one priority,” the manager said. “We are not allowed to argue with or correct a customer. The customer is always right,” according to Doe’s lawsuit.

In May 2018, three customers threatened Doe with physical violence, and one of them pushed her. The threats included, “I’ll kill your b—h a–,” and “We don’t like fa—ts,” according to the lawsuit. Doe reported the threats to local police. She also reported the threats to a store manager who said, “If you don’t feel safe, go home,” according to the lawsuit.

When Doe said she would go home, her name was temporarily removed from the schedule. A few days later, Doe was fired from her job, according to the lawsuit.

A manager told federal EEOC investigators that Doe was fired because she did not give two-weeks notice before taking a sick day. Doe, who is HIV-positive, alleges that giving two-weeks advance notice for a sick day is unreasonable.

“A person living with HIV may need time off for a complication which may not be foreseeable a full two weeks in advance,” Doe’s lawsuit states.

Doe seeks more than $150,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Additionally, she seeks a neutral job reference from Dunkin’ Donuts and the adoption of a trans-inclusive anti-bias policy that prevents misgendering at the donut shop and allows trans employees to use gender-appropriate restrooms at the shop.

Doe’s 57-page lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 8, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Doe has requested a jury trial.

Doe’s attorney, Justin F. Robinette, issued this statement in an email: “My client was subjected to humiliation based on her gender identity and ultimately fired illegally. I’m shocked by the mistreatment she received, and we plan to hold Dunkin’ Donuts responsible for their actions in court.”

Victor E. Scomillio, an attorney for Dunkin’ Donuts, declined to comment. “It’s in litigation, and we don’t have any comment on the allegations — which have yet to be proven,” Scomillio told PGN. “We will defend our client in the court process, not in the paper.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.