A former Fresno Starbucks employee is suing the coffee chain claiming harassment and discrimination after she began the process to transition from male to female.
In the complaint filed in Fresno Superior Court, plaintiff Maddie Wade alleges Dustin Guthrie, her manager at the 6701 N. Milburn Ave. Starbucks in northwest Fresno, reduced her hours and discriminated against her after she disclosed her gender dysphoria disorder and her plans to start hormone therapy and have facial feminization surgery. She eventually was forced to resign because of the “intolerable conditions,” the complaint says.
Wade is seeking unlimited damages from Starbucks and alleges the loss of a job and health insurance caused her to slide back into gender dysphoria and effectively stopped her transition.
“I loved my friends and colleagues at Starbucks and expected to have a long-term career with the company,” Wade said in a statement. “It was humiliating to come to work every day and be treated with no dignity or respect. I never would have expected this kind of behavior from a fellow employee who failed to represent the culture and ethics that have come to embody Starbucks as a global brand.”
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Wade began working at Starbucks about nine years ago and in 2014 was promoted to supervisor, the complaint says. Wade in late 2016 was transferred to the Milburn location, which had the reputation of being “the worst Starbucks in town,” according to the complaint.
During her time at the Milburn location, Wade worked under multiple managers and the store’s performance and reputation improved, the complaint says. Guthrie was named manager of that location in July 2017, and while his demeanor was drastically different from the prior manager, he and Wade worked well together. He offered to take her “under his wing” and promised to promote Wade to assistant manager. The store rose from one of the bottom three to one of the top three.
Wade in September or October 2017 told Guthrie and her other coworkers about her gender dysphoria and plans to transition, along with her preference for female pronouns. Wade assured Guthrie she hoped to continue working the same amount of hours and similar schedule during her transition so she could leave early for medical appointments and cover her expenses.
The next day, Guthrie told Wade he struggled to wrap his head around the idea of her transition because of his religious views. He previously indicated he was Christian and wanted a career in politics, the complaint said. Guthrie routinely shared his political, religious and moral views on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The lawsuit includes posts that describe Guthrie’s “hostility” toward people who are transgender or suffer from gender dysphoria.
One such post depicts John Wayne with the statement “CUTTING OFF YOUR PECKER DOES NOT MAKE YOU A WOMAN. IT JUST MAKES YOU A GUY THAT CUT OFF HIS DAMN PECKER.” Other posts from Guthrie cite “leftist logic” that “men can be women” and deride Caitlin Jenner as someone who just wanted to “cross dress without being judged.”
Wade says in the complaint that her relationship with her coworkers remained positive, except with Guthrie. Her hours were cut, and Guthrie refused to use female pronouns with her, continuing to call her “Matt,” “brother” and “man.” At one point Wade confronted Guthrie about the treatment saying she felt punished, but Guthrie assured her that was not the case.
Wade’s last day working at the Milburn location was March 11, 2018. She took a leave for facial feminization surgery and returned to work at a different location in May. At the new location on Blackstone and Barstow avenues, Wade was demeaned and embarrassed by customers, who intentionally called her “sir” and “man,” the complaint says. The manager there “dismissively laughed about it” and brushed off Wade’s concerns.
A gender therapist advised Wade to resign since the toxic workplace environment was adversely affecting her mental and physical health. Wade resigned June 5. Wade’s gender therapist also referred her to a stress therapist, but Wade wasn’t able to make the appointment because she lost her health insurance when she quit her job.
Wade never would’ve began her transition without the security of her job status, income and healthcare, the complaint says.
Wade is seeking general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
Asked for a comment regarding the lawsuit, a Starbucks spokesperson issued this statement:
“At Starbucks, we strive to create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome and have zero tolerance for the harassment of our partners or customers. We encourage all of our partners to alert their local leadership the moment they feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work. In those instances where partners don’t want to speak with their manager or choose to remain anonymous, we have processes in place that allow them to provide details over phone, email or fax.”
Wade’s attorney, Arnold Peter, said in a statement that Wade’s experience contrasts Starbucks’ reputation for being socially progressive and forward thinking on subjects such as gender equality.
“Clearly, in this case the company failed to protect a dedicated and hardworking employee when she was at her most vulnerable,” Peter said.