Chicago transgender woman suing Circle K for discrimination

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Judi Brown (Photo courtesy of ACLU of Illinois)

CHICAGO — A transgender woman is suing convenience store chain Circle K, alleging she was fired after she complained about harassment and discrimination she had experienced.

Judi Brown filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, saying the company violated federal and state law. She is being represented by the ACLU of Illinois.

“I was terminated because I am an African-American transgender woman and because I refused to stay quiet about the discrimination I was going through,” Brown said in a statement from the ACLU. “The discrimination and harassment were traumatizing and needed to be called out. It was not fair.”

Brown said that after she started work at Circle K’s store in Bolingbrook, the manager started asking invasive and offensive questions, including questions about her anatomy. A fellow employee was allowed to harass her with transphobic and racist slurs. She said that the company did nothing when she complained. After a year, she was fired after requesting time off to perform in the Chicago Pride Parade. The ACLU said that she normally worked Monday through Friday, but was suddenly scheduled to work that Sunday. She followed all procedures to get the day off, but was fired the next day.

“An employee cannot be fired simply because they are transgender, and they cannot be fired for speaking out about racist and transphobic harassment in the workplace. Circle K’s actions were unacceptable and illegal. Employers should never advance the bigotry of some employees over the safety, wellbeing, and success of others. Employers must do better to support transgender employees, particularly transgender employees of color,” said Carolyn Wald, LGBTQ Project Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Illinois.

A case for discrimination against transgender people on a national level is about to be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Illinois law clearly states that transgender people are protected against discrimination in employment. The Illinois Human Rights Act includes specific protections for employees on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Even in Illinois, discrimination against transgender people, especially trans women of color, still happens. We deserve to be respected at work just like everyone else,” said Brown. “My hope is that this lawsuit will show that what happened to me was wrong and no one else should have to put up with it.”

You can read the complaint here.

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