Transgender cook was harassed ‘almost daily’ and asked about his genitals, officials say

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The staff at a restaurant in New York harassed a transgender cook “almost daily,” resulting in his resignation, federal officials say.

A transgender man was targeted because of his gender identity by the staff at T.C. Wheelers, a pizzeria outside Buffalo, violating federal law, according to a lawsuit filed on March 30 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A representative for T.C. Wheelers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News. The former employee could not immediately be reached for comment.

An owner of the restaurant began harassing the man in January 2021, saying he “wasn’t a real man” and asking about his genitals, officials said.


The repeated harassment came from “all levels of staff” — managers, owners and line employees alike — and included “equating being transgender to pedophilia,” officials said.

The staff regularly referred to the employee by the wrong pronouns on purpose and also subjected him to invasive questions, including asking whether he took testosterone supplements, according to the complaint.

The employee complained to management on multiple occasions, officials said, but his concerns were never addressed.

Eventually, after about four months of employment, he was left with no alternative but to quit to avoid further harassment, officials said.

The restaurant’s reported actions violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employer discrimination toward employees based on sex, which includes gender identity, according to the statute.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, seeks punitive and compensatory damages as well as injunctive relief and back pay, officials said.

“This new lawsuit, filed one day before Transgender Day of Visibility, reflects the EEOC’s longstanding commitment to protecting transgender persons from employment discrimination, including the type of egregious harassment alleged in this case,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said in the release.

Forty-six percent of LGBT employees in the United States reported being treated unfairly at work at least once on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a 2021 report from the Williams Institute, a think tank associated with the UCLA School of Law.

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