Primark must pay nearly $60,000 in damages for subjecting a former transgender employee to a hostile work environment. According to a decision from the United Kingdom’s Employment Tribunal, Alexandra de Souza E Souza, who worked at Primark’s Oxford Street outpost until last year, is entitled to £47,433 (almost $60,000) in compensation to which she is entitled and in damages to cover pain and suffering she experienced as a result of the retailer failing to remedy the harassment she endured while on the clock.
According to Ms. de Souza E Souza’s complaint, which she filed with the UK Employment Tribunal last year following her resignation in February 2017, she was subjected to widespread harassment from fellow Primark employees, including supervisors, who reportedly called her “a joke,” referred to her as “Alexander,” and told her that she was “evil,” often in front of customers. Additionally, her co-workers sprayed her with men’s cologne and forced her to use the men’s bathroom.
Ms. de Souza E Souza alleges that she informed higher-ups at Primark of the harassment, but instead of taking action, they merely told her “to calm down.” Later, in December 2016, she filed a grievance letter with Primark about the consistent harassment. She claims that Primark’s HR team asked her department manager, Darell Wyatt, to interview her and the employees, but she asserts that she was not informed of the outcome of her complaint and that conditions at work did not improve anytime thereafter.
She subsequently resigned, which Judge Tamara Lewis stated amounts to a constructive dismissal (when an employer, instead of firing the employee, makes working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to resign), as it was tied directly to the “very severe” injury to de Souza E Souza’s mental state that she experienced at work.
Ms. de Souza E Souza was, in essence, “bullied out of a job,” according to Judge Lewis, who held that Primark failed to properly address her formal complaint.
In addition to ordering Primark to pay damages to Ms. de Souza E Souza, Judge Lewis strongly suggests that Primark adopt a written policy on how it will properly accommodate new or existing staff who are transgender or who wish to undergo gender reassignment to the “playground-style bullying” to which Ms. de Souza E Souza was subjected. This includes, according to the judge, “proper systems from the outset to preserve confidentiality for transgender employees.”
In a statement following the release of the Tribunal’s decision Primark said: “Primark is an equal opportunities employer and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, against any person, on any grounds. All policies relating to our people are based on fair treatment for all, to ensure the promotion and practice of equality of opportunity.”
“We are extremely disappointed that on this occasion our usual high standards in implementing these policies were not met and we sincerely apologies to the employee in question for this. We remain fully committed to equal opportunities and are reviewing our internal policies and training to ensure similar issues do not arise in the future.”
The Primark proceeding comes after 22-year old Alexia Daskalakis filed suit against Forever 21 in April 2015, alleging that her male supervisors insulted her and subjected her to bias because of her transgender identity, including calling her a “hot mess,” “useless,” and “disgusting,” and telling her that she looked “offensive.” The case was submitted to arbitration, due to the mandatory arbitration clauses in Forever 21’s employment contracts, in August 2016.
Before that, in September 2014, Leyth Jamal, 23, filed suit against Saks Fith Avenue, alleging that her managers at a Saks store in Houston constantly referred to her as a man, instructed her to use the men’s restroom and pressured her to change her appearance to a more masculine one, despite being aware of her transgender identity. The case was settled in March 2015.