A woman who worked at a Chick-fil-A in Decatur, Georgia, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully fired after being harassed for four months by her co-workers for being transgender.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for Northern Georgia in late June by Erin Taylor, 29, who told NBC News she transitioned about three years ago. She is referred to in court documents by her legal name, which is different from the name she uses.
The lawsuit accuses her former employer of condoning a workplace that included “sexual harassment,” “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” and “retaliation.” Employers in the U.S. are barred from discriminating against LGBTQ employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity following the 2020 landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County.
Taylor started working at the fast-food restaurant in late August 2021 to train as director of operations and soon after was verbally harassed by a co-worker who made “sexual passes” at her and made “very vulgar comments” about her, she told NBC News.
“I was excited, and unfortunately that excitement changed quickly, starting with my first day,” she said.
Taylor reported the incident to her supervisor, and after several complaints was directed to the franchise owner of the Chick-fil-A location, according to the lawsuit.
“The Franchise Owner responded by saying that it should be an honor that with (Taylor) being a transgender woman that someone liked her enough to hit on her,” the suit says.
The owner of the location, mentioned in the suit as Joe Engert, did not return NBC News’ requests for comment Tuesday. Chick-fil-A did not return NBC News’ request for comment either.
Taylor said that after her co-workers learned she was transgender, the “countenance of the entire restaurant changed.” The lawsuit says co-workers started purposely misgendering Taylor, and the co-worker who had initially made advances toward her started making violent and transphobic threats.
“A lot of transphobia started happening,” she said. “Immediately, I became fearful. Immediately, the anxiety started.”
Taylor was fired in November 2021, the suits says. Her employer said she was terminated because she left the job while on the clock, she told NBC News, but she alleges in the suit she was being harassed by her supervisor and was given permission to leave. She filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that month, according to the lawsuit.
The fast-food chain has a history of anti-LGBTQ behavior, critics say. The company’s billionaire CEO, Dan Cathy, expressed opposition to gay marriage in a 2012 interview, but in a statement the company later said the company’s “culture and service tradition” was to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” The statement also promised the company would back away from the same-sex marriage debate at the time.
Chick-fil-A pledged in 2019 that it would no longer donate to organizations that had been criticized for what some saw as anti-LGBTQ policies. But Cathy was among those who topped the list of donors who bankrolled an effort in 2021 to kill the Equality Act, the Daily Beast reported at the time after reviewing tax filings and accidental public disclosures.
Taylor said that although she was “walking in blind” to what some have characterized as the company’s anti-LGBTQ history, she shouldn’t have needed to be aware of it.
“In any professional environment, I would expect that company, and individuals working for that company, to uphold themselves in a professional manner,” she said. “That didn’t happen.”