A transgender woman in New Jersey has filed suit accusing a Walmart store and one of its managers of firing her due to anti-trans bias, after instances of harassment that saw her called “he/she” and “that fucking tranny.”
The woman, Samantha Azzarano, began working at a Walmart in Deptford, N.J., in September 2012, ThinkProgress reports. The following January, she told a manager that she is transgender, and later that year she began presenting in her female identity at work, and had the name on her ID badge changed to Samantha, replacing her birth name.
According to her suit, filed October 2 in Camden County Superior Court, there were no problems with Azzarano’s job performance, and no coworkers complained about her until manager Sheena Wyckoff joined Azzarano’s team in January 2014. Wyckoff, the suit says, referred to Azzarano as “Samantha, Robert … he/she … whatever” and “that fucking tranny.”
Wyckoff also began unjustly reprimanding Azzarano, yelling at her, and accusing her of undermining Wyckoff’s authority, according to the suit. In a meeting with a team leader, Wyckoff told Azzarano, “We are always walking on eggshells for you,” the filing states.
Wyckoff obviously “had a problem with Samantha being Samantha,” Azzarano’s lawyer, Kevin M. Costello, told ThinkProgress. He noted that the use of the term “tranny” was particularly objectionable. “It’s as unacceptable as a racial epithet to describe a black person,” he said.
Azzarano says she complained to a higher manager, who failed to inform the human resources department about the problems. Azzarano then went to human resources herself, after which Wyckoff warned her not to go to higher management again. In December 2014, Azzarano was fired, “ostensibly, for conduct that she had been performing since July of 2013,” although such conduct was “allowed, and encouraged” in other departments, according to the suit.
“Any proffered reason by the defendants for the termination would be pretext,” the suit says. “The plaintiff was terminated for her transgender status,” in violation of New Jersey’s antidiscrimination law. The suit accuses Walmart of violating this law and Wyckoff of aiding and abetting in the discrimination, and Azzarano seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorneys’ fees, enhanced attorneys’ fees, equitable back pay, equitable front pay and equitable reinstatement,” reports legal news website Law360.
At least two other major discrimination suits have been filed against Walmart recently. One alleges denial of benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, while the other claims racial and age-related discrimination.