Transgender Woman Sues Starbucks for Discrimination and Harassment

She was misgendered, mocked, and had her hours cut, despite being an exemplary employee, the suit claims.

A transgender woman in California is suing Starbucks, her former employer, alleging discrimination and harassment after she began transitioning.

Maddie Wade has filed a complaint in Fresno Superior Court, claiming her manager, Dustin Guthrie, reduced her hours and treated her with hostility after she came out, The Fresno Bee reports.

While she says her relationship with co-workers was unaffected, Guthrie, she alleges, continued to call her by her former name and use male pronouns.

The “intolerable conditions” eventually forced her to resign, the complaint states, and the loss of her job and health insurance resulted in the return of her gender dysphoria and stalled her transition process. She is seeking unlimited damages, including general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

starbucks
Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
Baristas at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Washington, D.C.

“I loved my friends and colleagues at Starbucks and expected to have a long-term career with the company,” Wade said in a statement. “It was humiliating to come to work every day and be treated with no dignity or respect. I never would have expected this kind of behavior from a fellow employee who failed to represent the culture and ethics that have come to embody Starbucks as a global brand.”

Wade began working for the company about nine years ago, according to the complaint, and was promoted to supervisor in 2014. In 2016, she was transferred to the Milburn location, where she came out the following year.

She had been recently promoted to manager at that location, working well alongside Guthrie during her pre-transition period, helping revive the store, which, according to the court filing, had been known as “the worst Starbucks in town.”

The suit also alleges Guthrie told Wade on the day following her announcement about her transgender identity, and plans to begin hormone replacement therapy and facial feminization surgery, that he was struggling to understand. He had previously indicated that he was a Christian and wished to pursue a political career, it states.

Included in the lawsuit are social media posts showing Guthrie’s “hostility” toward the transgender community, including a meme of John Wayne and the message, “Cutting off your pecker doesn’t make you a woman, it just makes you a guy that cut off his damn pecker.”

Another post invalidated Caitlyn Jenner’s identity, claiming she just wanted to “cross dress without being judged.”

Wade’s final day at the Milburn location came in March of 2018, when she took leave to undergo facial feminization surgery, and returned to work at a different location. The filing says she was also treated poorly at the new store, with customers intentionally misgendering her and management laughing off her upset at the situation. Her therapist encouraged her to leave the toxic workplace, the filing says.

Starbucks has a 100 rating from HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, and earlier this year announced it would begin offering comprehensive care for transgender employees.

Wade’s attorney, Arnold Peter, said in a statement his client’s experience contradicts the company’s reputation for being an accepting workplace.

“Clearly, in this case the company failed to protect a dedicated and hardworking employee when she was at her most vulnerable,” he said.

NewNowNext has reached out to Starbucks for comment.

UPDATE:

A spokesperson for Starbucks returned request for comment, telling NewNowNext:

At Starbucks, we strive to create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome, and have zero tolerance for the harassment of our partners or customers.

We encourage all of our partners to alert their local leadership the moment they feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work. And in those instances where partners don’t want to speak with their manager, or choose to remain anonymous, we have policies in place that allow for them to provide details over the phone, email, or fax and retain their anonymity.

Journalist and news editor. Collage artist. Human. Follow on Twitter and Instagram: @jefftaylorhuman.