Transgender Woman Sues Circle K Over Firing

The woman said she reported harassment before she was “retaliated against” for complaining, the lawsuit claims

A transgender woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Circle K, a national convenience store chain, alleging the company fired her when she complained about harassment and discrimination she experienced.

Judi Brown said she was harassed by a Bolingbrook store manager who “began targeting her with invasive and offensive questions,” including ones about her anatomy, not long after she started her job at the location. The lawsuit states a coworker called her a “man in a dress” and a “prostitute,” among other things such as racial slurs.

Brown said she reported the harassment before she was “retaliated against” for complaining, the lawsuit claims.

“I was terminated because I am an African-American transgender woman and because I refused to stay quiet about the discrimination I was going through,” Brown said in a statement. “The discrimination and harassment were traumatizing and needed to be called out. It was not fair.”

Circle K said in a statement it is an "equal opportunity employer with a diverse workforce including transgender employees and fully cooperated with agency authorities during the previous investigation into this claim." 

Brown said she typically worked a Monday through Friday schedule and had been slated to perform in Chicago’s Pride Parade in June the day before she was fired. According to the suit, Brown was scheduled for a last-minute shift the Sunday of the parade and “followed procedure to call off.”

“I was in absolute shock after being fired. I followed all the rules for taking off on that day so I could celebrate with my community – and they picked that day to terminate me. I felt so humiliated,” Brown said in a statement. 

Brown said she was fired because she “refused to stay quiet about the discrimination.”

“An employee cannot be fired simply because they are transgender, and they cannot be fired for speaking out about racist and transphobic harassment in the workplace,” attorney Carolyn Wal with the LGBTQ Project for ACLU Illinois said in a statement. “Circle K’s actions were unacceptable and illegal. Employers should never advance the bigotry of some employees over the safety, wellbeing, and success of others. Employers must do better to support transgender employees, particularly transgender employees of color.” 

“Even in Illinois, discrimination against transgender people, especially trans women of color, still happens,” Brown said in a statement. “We deserve to be respected at work just like everyone else,” said Ms. Brown. “My hope is that this lawsuit will show that what happened to me was wrong and no one else should have to put up with it.”

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