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Transgender woman files suit against Circle K
by Matt Simonette
2019-08-23

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An area transgender woman is taking Montreal-based Circle K convenience stores to court, alleging that she was subjected to anti-trans and racist discrimination while employed at a Bolingbrook location.

Judi Brown was employed as a cashier at the Bolingbrook store from May 2016-June 2017. During that time, she alleges, she was subjected to repeated misgendering on her employment related-documentation as well as intrusive questions regarding her gender identity, among other indignities. She is being represented by ACLU of Illinois in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

"It was an uncomfortable and hostile environment," Brown told Windy City Times. "It definitely was a trial—I really had to endure in that experience working there."

That "uncomfortableness started immediately," she added. "It accumulated to the more severe situations that transpired. From the beginning, there were issues."

Brown first became aware of potential difficulties when she was asked to answer probing questions about being transgender, she alleges. "They were asking me about my genitalia, my thoughts about surgery, my sexual experiences and things of that nature."

According to her complaint, Brown had to repeatedly tell management not to use her birth-name on her review and coaching documents; those documents additionally referred to her using male pronouns. Brown also said in her complaint that store employees used anti-Black slurs both to insult her and speak about Black customers as well.

Her difficulties came to a head in June 2017, near the time of the Chicago Pride parade. Brown had planned to participate in the event, which she alleges management was aware of, but was notified that she would be expected to work that day. Brown, who worked a relatively fixed Monday-Friday schedule, replied both by text and in person that she was unavailable, she said.

She went to the parade as planned. When she returned to work the following day however, her credentials did not allow her to clock in. Brown then phoned the store manager, who told her she'd been terminated. According to the complaint, the company's documentation cited her missing the day of the parade as the reason.

Circle K disputed Brown's application for unemployment benefits and she was rejected, she alleges, "under false pretenses. [Circle K] said that I was told that I would be terminated if I did not come in for work, but that was incorrect."

Brown is asking for a jury trial for the matter.

ACLU of Illinois Staff Attorney Carolyn Wald said, "This kind of harassment against transgender workers, particularly transgender women of color, is all too common, even in Illinois, and even in 2019. Even though state and federal anti-discrimination laws protect transgender workers, we're still seeing it happening."


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