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Transgender woman sues Circle K, citing slurs, harassment, firing after Pride Parade: ‘I was in absolute shock’

Judi Brown, who is trans, filed suit Wednesday against the convenience store where she worked for a little over a year, accusing coworkers of using transphobic slurs, calling her a “man in a dress” and the n-word.

Transgender woman Judi Brown, who is suing Circle K.
Transgender woman Judi Brown, who is suing Circle K.
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An African American transgender woman is suing a Bolingbrook-based Circle K, alleging harassment and discrimination while working at one of the international convenience store chain’s locations.

Judi Brown, who is trans, filed suit Wednesday against the convenience store where she worked for a little over a year, accusing coworkers of using transphobic slurs, calling her a “man in a dress” and the n-word.

Brown’s manager wasn’t much better, according to the complaint. She allegedly targeted Brown, asking invasive and offensive questions about Brown’s reproductive anatomy, refused to update company documents to “reflect Ms. Brown’s chosen name, and sometimes used male pronouns to refer to her in company documents.”

When Brown reported the treatment, she said Circle K did nothing — a promised promotion was denied and her work was over scrutinized.

After a year of what she described as escalating harassment, Brown was fired the day after the same manager scheduled her for a shift on the Sunday of Chicago’s Pride celebration — higher ups knew she intended to perform during the parade. Brown wasn’t notified that she’d been fired — she found out when she couldn’t clock in for work during her next shift.

Lawyers for Brown say that treatment — and unfair firing — violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

“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. Circle K’s actions were unacceptable and illegal,” Carolyn Wald, LGBTQ Project Staff Attorney which is part of ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “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.”

Despite following the procedure for reporting inability to work a shift, Brown said in a statement she was fired the next day. She was “stunned” by the firing.

“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.

“Even in Illinois, discrimination against transgender people, especially trans women of color, still happens. We deserve to be respected at work just like everyone else,” Brown’s statement continued. “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.”

A manager of the Bolingbrook Circle K had no comment. Representatives from the corporate office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brown is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, including but not limited to lost wages and benefits, “in such amount as will reasonably compensate her for her losses, and damages for emotional distress,” as well as attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.