Workers accuse Hostess of discrimination, unjust firings of Black LGBT employees

Workers at a Hostess bakery in Chicago accused the snack dessert maker of firing a transgender employee for her gender identity and segregating LGBT employees onto a separate work line at the factory in the Galewood neighborhood on city’s west side at a Wednesday news conference.

Danyell Wallace, 43, said she was filing a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was fired in June from the company, where she had worked since 2020.

Wallace, who is transgender and worked as a machine operator for Hostess, said she had been discriminated against by supervisors and was singled out for discipline and firing because of her gender identity.

“Supervisors insulted me to co-workers,” she said. “Other times, it took the form of gossip that was indulged by supervisors.”

Wallace said when she used a single-stall women’s restroom instead of the men’s common restroom for her safety, she became the subject of “stressful and humiliating” gossip at the bakery.

Wallace said she was told she was fired for returning late from breaks, though she said she had not received a warning from the company before her termination. She said she had been about five minutes late returning from breaks a few times and maintained the company’s reasoning was pretextual.

In a statement, Hostess said it had not received an EEOC filing and declined to comment.

Wallace said she had been discriminated against both as a Black worker and because of her gender identity. She alleged Black workers were segregated to the second shift at the bakery and that LGBT workers were moved to the second fryer line on that second shift, where they were singled out for discipline.

Dan Giloth, an organizer with the group Black Workers Matter, which hosted the news conference, said at least four LGBT workershad been fired at the bakery.Giloth said the group planned to file employment commission complaints on behalf of at least two additional workers within the next month.

Wallace’s employment commission charge alleges other similarly situated workers were also segregated and discriminated against at the factory. “There was a policy and practice of hostility toward workers in my area based on my gender identity and sexual orientation,” the complaint reads.

“I’m not doing this just for myself, but for other workers as well,” Wallace said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, former Hostess employee Garland Rose, 53, who is bisexual, said he was fired by Hostess in June and had since become homeless.

“It’s very unfair for anyone, whether you’re straight, gay or bisexual, to have to come to work and feel discriminated against and uncomfortable,” Rose said. “It’s just not right.”

Rose said the company told him he had been fired for taking doughnuts home without proper signoff from his supervisor. Rose said he did break the rules, but maintained it’s common for employees to take doughnuts home and said he was singled out because of his sexual orientation.

Giloth said Black Workers Matter had sent a letter to Hostess leadership in July and had first attempted to mediate Wallace’s firing without taking legal steps. Wallace filed an internal grievance with the company but her termination was upheld, she said.

Wallace said she had also reached out to the union that represents workers at the factory, Local 30 of the Chemical and Production Workers’ Union, but never had a union representative at any disciplinary meetings.

Local 30 did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Audrey Harding, legislative director for Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, read a statement on his behalf and said the commissioner supported Wallace’s employment commission complaint.

“For far too long, Black employees at this plant have suffered racist abuse, firings and retaliation for speaking out and demanding basic fairness and humanity from their bosses,” Harding said. “That must stop.”

Hostess Brands bought the Galewood bakery from Swiss-based Aryzta for about $25 million in 2018.

That year, a federal lawsuit filed against Arytza and two staffing agencies, Labor Network and Metro Staffing Service, alleged Arytza had conspired with the staffing agencies to weed out Black workers seeking employment.

The plaintiff, Anthony Stewart, later agreed to drop the suit with prejudice against the companies; court documents show he reached a settlement with Arytza in 2019. The case had sought class-action status but never reached the class certification stage.

“This plant has had a long, troubled history of discrimination,” said Stewart, who spoke at Wednesday’s news conference.