Being yourself at work shouldn’t mean dealing with daily insults, threats, and mistreatment. But in a FedEx lawsuit, a warehouse worker coming out as transgender at work meant that former mates and coworkers turned on her, forcing her out of a job she used to love.
Toy Prendergast had worked at FedEx’s UK headquarters in Newcastle-Under-Lyme for years. Her career as a depot operative at the company spanned 12 happy years. Throughout that time, Prendergast was presenting as male, using the name Paul.
(Mrs. Prendergast has chosen to continue to refer to her pre-transition name in explaining her experiences with the company. That name is included in this post to give context to her statements. Eisenberg and Baum does not believe in deadnaming Trans* individuals and believes that every transgender person should be granted the dignity of choosing a name that fits with their gender identity and expression.)
Before coming out, Prendergast had a good relationship with her coworkers, counting many of them as friends. But then, in 2017, Mrs. Prendergast made the difficult decision to come out at work. She began living openly as a woman and presenting as female on the job under the name Toy. Her former “mates” turned on her immediately. She told the Daily Mail:
“I used to be one of the gang as Paul - but when I came out as Toy they turned on me straight away. My life was made hell. I was scared to go to work - I was scared for my safety.
“Virtually every day I was being abused. I would wake up every night crying and drenched in sweat.
“I just couldn't go on - I was having too many suicidal thoughts. I was panicking at the very thought of going into work. Every day was like a recurring nightmare.”
Mrs. Prendergast says she that she was subjected to nearly daily sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Her coworkers would call her names including “f****** queer”, make sexually suggestive movements and gestures, and force her to complete heavy tasks that were very difficult for her after her transition.
She reported the “toxic and intimidating environment” to FedEx after her coworkers’ behavior began to trigger panic attacks, depression, and suicidal thoughts. However, her complaints were never taken seriously. Finally, in May 2020, Mrs. Prendergast was forced to leave the company to protect herself. She is now suing the company under English anti-discrimination laws.
Here in the U.S. there are state and federal laws that protect against gender discrimination and sexual harassment like what Mrs. Predergast experienced when she came out as Trans*. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act prevents discrimination and harassment based on a person’s sex or gender. That includes sexual orientation and transgender discrimination.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a case very similar to Mrs. Prendergast’s. In RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Inc v EEOC, funeral director Aimee Stephens was told not to come back after she told her employer she would be presenting as female at work. The Supreme Court said that this action, as well as two other cases involving sexual orientation discrimination, were necessarily based on the sex of the workers involved.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The New York State Human Rights Act goes even further. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on “gender identity or expression.” According to the act:
“The term ‘gender identity or expression’ means a person's actual or perceived gender-related identity, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth, including, but not limited to, the status of being transgender.”
Had Mrs. Prendergast filed her FedEx lawsuit in New York, she and her workplace discrimination attorney could have chosen between state and federal court.
If Mrs. Prendergast’s story feels familiar, there are some important steps you should take before leaving a hostile work environment:
At Eisenberg & Baum, we understand how to pressure employers like FedEx to comply with state and federal law and stop sexual orientation and transgender discrimination at work. Our employment discrimination attorneys, help LGBTQ+ protect their rights under Title VII, and state civil rights laws. We can help you protect the job you love or recover damages if coworkers’ abusive behaviors have forced you to quit. If you have been the victim of transgender discrimination, contact us. We'll meet with you and help create a strategy that protects you and moves you closer to equality.