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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 10, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 15
Transgender employee sues Forever 21 for harassment
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Transgender employee sues Forever 21 for harassment

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Transgender woman has filed suit against her former employer, Forever 21, saying managers at the trendy retailer harassed her after she began transitioning and then fired her without explanation.

Alexia Daskalakis had worked at a Forever 21 store in Brooklyn, New York, for four years before she began transitioning in January 2014. Her career was on an upward track, and she received a promotion from sales associate to visual merchandiser.

She'd always felt that she was a woman, however, and decided she needed to transition.

'I always played with Barbie dolls, and wore my mom's high heels and clothes... I wrestled with it,' Daskalakis told the NY Daily News, but 'I work hard. I figured my work ethic could trump any discrimination.'

That January she told her supervisors about the transition, and 'began dressing in a more traditionally feminine manner, such as wearing more form-fitting clothing and applying more traditionally feminine makeup.'

Co-workers and customers were supportive, Daskalakis said.

'They'd say, 'You look great!' and were very nice,' but her immediate supervisor, Patrick Walmsley, began treating her with 'increasing contempt,' the lawsuit charges.

'You're still a male, so you need to abide by the male dress code,' Walmsley told her. He also yelled at her in front of coworkers and called her 'useless' and 'disgusting,' the suit says.

He also passed on complaints from another supervisor, who called Daskalakis a 'hot mess,' and accused her of slacking off, a charge she denied.

'I said, 'I haven't changed anything. Your perspective has changed,' she recalled.

Daskalakis then complained to the company's HR department, but said her calls were never returned.

She says she was fired in January 2015, and when she demanded an explanation she was told to call HR, which has yet to call her back.

'I was devastated,' she told the Daily News. 'You put all your hard work into working for one company, and they respond by being ruthless. It hurt.'

Her suit, which was filed April 1 in Brooklyn federal court, seeks unspecified money damages.

Daskalakis' lawyer, David Gottlieb, said his client was targeted for abuse because of her gender identity.

'The transgender community faces a variety of challenges, and it is disgraceful for employers to create additional hardship by discriminating against employees simply because of how they express and identify their gender,' he said.

'I just hope I get justice for how I was treated,' Daskalakis added. 'People in my position need to find their voice, and customers should know who they're shopping from.'

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