EEOC aims to prioritize ‘vulnerable workers,’ including LGBTQ workers

A New York pizzeria failed to protect a trans employee from ‘almost daily harassment,’ EEOC alleges in new suit.
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The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) last month filed a lawsuit against a New York State pizzeria after “management and employees harassed an employee because of his gender identity.”

The suit alleges the owners of TC Wheelers Bar & Pizzeria in Tonawanda, New York, “repeatedly harassed Quinn J. Gambino, a transgender male, including telling Gambino that he ‘wasn’t a real man’ [and] asking invasive questions about his transition,” according to the EEOC.

The EEOC also alleges that management misgendered the employee and did nothing when other employees and customers used the wrong pronouns for Gambino.

“TC Wheelers failed to protect Gambino by not addressing the almost daily harassment from all levels of staff, including owners, managers, and line employees. Eventually, Gambino had no choice but to resign to escape the harassment,” said the EEOC.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind from the EEOC since filing on behalf of another trans worker in 2017. In January, the commission released a draft of its “Strategic Enforcement Plan” (SEF) for fiscal years 2023–2027, which included expanding priority workers to include LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The EEOC wrote in the SEF that it will prioritize vulnerable and underserved categories of workers “who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment opportunity laws, may be reluctant or unable to exercise their legally protected rights, or have historically been underserved by federal employment discrimination protections.”

“Employers must understand that Title VII protects employees from discrimination based upon gender identity and that they have a responsibility to prevent such discrimination from occurring. Employers should handle complaints of harassment seriously and take measures to prevent such abuse,” Timothy Riera, the EEOC New York acting district director, said in a statement on the TC Wheelers suit.

The commission also added categories to its SEF to include people with disabilities, those with arrest or conviction records, temp workers, older workers, low-wage workers and people with limited English proficiency.

The 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County reaffirmed Title VII protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The EEOC aims to enforce sexual orientation and gender discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, promotions, and among all aspects related to employment, as well as workplace harassment of any kind.

“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 holding in Bostock that discrimination against transgender workers violates the law,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement on the suit.

Even if your trans and nonbinary employees aren’t facing open hostility from management and colleagues at work, there’s still more HR can do.

Madison Butler, DE&I and culture consultant and CPO at cannabis glassware company GRAV, told HR Brew this month that HR must shut down harmful language at work and enforce no-tolerance policies. HR departments are also responsible for educating the workforce on what is not acceptable at work.—AD

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