EEOC Civil Rights Suit Accuses New York Pizzeria of Harassing Transgender Cook

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T C Wheelers, Inc., which operates T.C. Wheelers Bar & Pizzeria in Tonawanda, New York, violated federal law when management and employees harassed an employee because of his gender identity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit.

The EEOC alleges that beginning in January 2021, one of T.C. Wheelers’ owners repeatedly harassed Quinn J. Gambino, a transgender male who worked as a cook, including telling Gambino that he “wasn’t a real man,” asking invasive questions about his transition, and asking, “Does she have female parts?”

According to the EEOC’s complaint, T.C. Wheelers’ owners also intentionally referred to Gambino using female pronouns such as “she” or “her” against his wishes and stood by as employees and customers did the same.

At his job interview in January 2021, Gambino presented as male, introduced himself as Quinn, and did not disclose that he was transgender, according to the complaint. After being hired as a cook, Gambino told one of the owners, Christopher Candino, that he used male pronouns (“he,” “him,” or “his”), after which Candino made “intentional, frequent and repeated unwelcome and offensive remarks to Gambino about his transgender status,” according to the complaint.

Candino allegedly told an employee that he did not approve of Gambino being transgender, commenting, “If I just say “she”, [then] that’s what she is” and “Quinn’s a she.”

The federal agency further alleges that management and employees at T.C. Wheelers made other anti-transgender comments about Gambino, including equating being transgender to pedophilia.

According to the EEOC, Gambino complained repeatedly to manage­ment but TC Wheelers failed to address what the complaint says was the almost daily harassment for four months from owners, managers, and line employees. Eventually, Gambino resigned.

The EEOC maintains that the company had no process in place for employees to report workplace harassment and did not train managers on how to respond to complaints of workplace harassment.

The EEOC said the alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. Harassment based upon gender identity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the statute, according to the EEOC.

“In the current climate, where transgender individuals face increasing attacks on their rights and basic humanity, the EEOC will vigorously enforce the Supreme Court’s 2020 holding in Bostock that discrimination against transgender workers violates the law,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows.

The EEOC said it filed suit against T C Wheelers in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York in Buffalo after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the its conciliation process.

The EEOC suit seeks back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for the affected employee, and injunctive relief to prevent future gender-based harassment.

Other Transgender Complaints

The EEOC lawsuit comes as litigation involving transgender rights has been expanding.

In December, a transgender woman filed a discrimination complaint with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission over her employer’s exclusion of gender-transition health coverage. The New Hampshire commission may make findings on complaints of illegal discrimination and hold public hearings. Depending on how its investigation goes, the complaint could evolve into a lawsuit in state or federal court.

Last October, an Idaho city said it had settled a federal discrimination lawsuit with a former library employee who said they were harassed and discriminated against because they are transgender, the Idaho Statesman reported. That followed a September settlement between a transgender teacher and a Maryland school district.

Last June, a federal court ruled that Georgia county and sheriff’s office discriminated when it denied health insurance for a deputy seeking gender reassignment surgery.

In March 2022, a Maine’s human rights panel ruled in favor of a transgender woman who complained that she was discriminated against when she was denied a room by an assisted living facility.

Last January, a mother in California who claims teachers secretly manipulated her 11-year-old daughter into changing her gender identity and name filed a legal case against a small school district.

In October 2021, a Minnesota furniture retailer agreed to pay $60,000 to resolve an EEOC finding of gender identity discrimination.

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