Dunkin Donuts seeks dismissal of trans employee’s lawsuit

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A Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has asked a federal judge to dismiss the antibias lawsuit of a trans woman of color who claims a hostile work environment prevented her from doing her job properly 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 antibias law.

Doe’s Nov. 8 federal lawsuit claims she was subjected to anti-LGBT slurs shortly after she began working at the donut shop. Slurs hurled at her by coworkers and customers include “f–king fa–ot,” “tr—y,” “dude,” “b—h,” and “n—a.”

Doe alleges that because coworkers routinely misgendered her, customers would do so as well, despite her protests. Doe also was denied use of the store’s women’s 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, according to the lawsuit.

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

In May 2018, three customers threatened Doe with physical violence, and one of them pushed her. Doe 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, according to the lawsuit.

In a Dec. 20 motion to dismiss, Dunkin’ Donuts maintains it didn’t unlawfully discriminate against Doe. The filing emphasizes that Dunkin’ Donuts can’t be held liable for the alleged wrongdoing of customers. “No legal authority can be found where liability is created for failure to address or correct the conduct of a customer [who mistreated Doe],” the defense brief states.

Dunkin’ Donuts also asserts that Doe didn’t work in a hostile environment. The filing claims that “gender misidentification” of Doe doesn’t constitute discrimination under federal law. “Claims for gender misidentification have not been recognized as a legal cause of action in [federal antibias law],” the defense filing states.

Additionally, the defense filing claims that Doe didn’t experience gender stereotyping while working at Dunkin’ Donuts. “The conduct attributed to employees is gender misidentification, not gender stereotyping,” the defense brief states.

As for Doe’s complaint of being told by a coworker to use a men’s restroom, Dunkin’ Donuts points out that management didn’t make the request. “Notably, neither a manager nor assistant manager are alleged to have compelled Doe to use any particular bathroom,” the filing states.

Moreover, Dunkin’ Donuts refutes Doe’s claims of disability discrimination, noting that management wasn’t informed that Doe was disabled due to her HIV status and gender dysphoria. Thus, it had no obligation to offer reasonable accommodations for her conditions. The filing concludes, “Based upon the foregoing, the defendant respectfully asks the court to grant its motion to dismiss.”

Doe seeks more than $150,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. As of presstime, U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania hadn’t ruled on the dismissal request.

Victor E. Scomillio, an attorney for Dunkin’ Donuts, couldn’t be reached for comment.

“We’re confident that the law is on our side,” said Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe. “We’re optimistic that Judge Leeson will deny the motion to dismiss and allow my client her day in court.”