SCARBOROUGH, Maine — A transgender man has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against a Dunkin Donuts in southern Maine, claiming he was sexually harassed by co-workers and demoted after being outed by his manager.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Maine, Kye Hubbard, of Westbrook, claims he was called transphobic slurs by co-workers and fired for speaking out against the harassment.
After filing a complaint with store management, Hubbard said he was demoted from his shift leader position, according to the lawsuit. He claims he was ultimately fired for vaping on work property about a week after he told management that he had reported his harrasment to the Maine Human Rights Commission, which investigates these types of workplace discrimination claims.
Hubbard said vaping behind the store out of customer view was permitted and many employees had vaped there in the past without repercussion.
The lawsuit names Cafua Management Co. LLC, a Massachusetts-based franchise which owns Dunkin Donuts stores in seven states including Maine, and its subsidiary Exit 42 Donuts, LLC, which operates the Scarborough store where Hubbard worked from Feb. 14, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019.
In May 2018, a Scarborough store manager revealed Hubbard’s gender identity to co-workers although he had requested confidentiality, according to the lawsuit.
Over the next few weeks, Hubbard said co-workers sexually harassed him, and when he complained to a corporate manager he was told that his supervisor would be fired, according to the lawsuit.
Instead, Hubbard’s supervisor was transferred to another store, according to the complaint.
In June, the franchise hired a new manager, who allegedly revoked some of Hubbard’s shift leader responsibilities and excluded him from management talks in which he had
formerly participated. Hubbard’s computer privileges at work also were revoked, according to the complaint.
When he threatened to report the manager’s conduct to Cafua’s human resources department, the manager asked “if there was anything sexually she could do” to stop him, the complaint alleges.
Cafua Management Co. would not comment on the pending litigation, but a company spokesperson said Dunkin franchises are independently operated by owners who make their own decisions about business and employment issues.
“Dunkin and our independent franchisees have a longstanding history of embracing diversity. Discrimination is completely inconsistent with our values, and we strive to create inclusive work cultures,” said Michelle King, a company spokesperson.
Inquiries to Hubbard’s legal counsel were not immediately returned.
After he was fired, Hubbard amended his complaint with MHRC, adding that he was unfairly discriminated against under the Maine Human Rights Act, the Maine Whistleblowers’ Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In a 6-3 ruling in June, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender workers, making it illegal for employers to fire an employee based on their gender identity.
A spokesperson for MHRC said that the commission did not issue a formal determination in Hubbard’s case, but sent him a “right-to-sue letter” in December 2019, clearing his case for civil action.
Hubbard is requesting a jury trial and is seeking back pay from the date he was fired and compensation for mental anguish and financial stress. He’s also asking to be reinstated to his former position, or receive additional compensation if that’s not possible.
Disclosure of a transgender person’s private information is a way of undermining someone’s position in the workplace, says Jennifer Levi, a transgender rights project director with the organization GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD. Levi says the organization hears regularly about this problem.
“Given the scope of federal and state non-discrimination law, it has become increasingly important to have appropriate training at all levels in the workplace to ensure equal opportunities for transgender workers,” Levi said.
Gia Drew, a program director for the LGBTQ advocacy group EqualityMaine, said her organization frequently trains employers and human resource professionals on the best practices for employing and protecting transgender workers.
Protecting employees’ sensitive information when requested is a big concern “in workplaces where people don’t understand the issues of being trans or gender-diverse,” Drew said. “It can still be a pretty dangerous world to be outed.”