Workplace discrimination daily reality for East Tennesseans

In the course of a normal workday, most workers expect a certain amount of daily frustration, demanding circumstances, and difficult workloads. These are just part of the stresses of work life. GLBT workers often experience additional job stresses relating to their status as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons despite the irrelevance of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in the context of the work world.

East Tennesseans are reporting job place difficulties related to being GLBT in increasing numbers. This month there are two people whose stories illustrate the additional stressors GLBT workers experience as they go about trying to support themselves and their families in the labor force.

Johnson City woman’s workplace harassment intolerable

Our first example is Casi Dalton, a 21-year old lesbian who until recently was employed by Tan America in Johnson City. Her duties as the only spray technician at that work site placed her in a unique position for criticism with regard to her sexual orientation. Casi, who is “out” at work, has worked there for nearly a year with no problems regarding either her work ethic or her technical skills. Her relationship with her partner, Shanna, has never been an issue at her job.

Casi has affectionate family members and is a very independent young woman, both financially and psychologically. Her sexual orientation has been an open subject at home since she was 17 years old. Her Mother and other family members embrace her and provide a caring support system.

Approximately six months ago, offhand remarks by her employer, Derrick (Michael) Waggoner began to cause some concerns.

Casi states that Waggoner told other employees in her presence that, “We don’t have to worry about Casi getting pregnant. She’s batting for the wrong team.”

Additional worries increased after Waggoner’s wife, a co-owner of the business, brought two friends to her shop for spray tan services. Casi emphatically maintains that she kept professional demeanor and manner while providing spray tan services for these and all other clients. The nature of the services is such that the clients are naked or nearly so.

Despite her professional service delivery, the two women complained about Casi’s services only after they had been told of Casi’s status as lesbian by the co-owner. According to Casi, she was confronted by the Waggoners and was told that there were complaints of rudeness and workplace indiscretion with her partner, Shanna, a charge she emphatically denies.

“That woman said we were all over each other. That couldn’t possibly have happened. We were never closer than 12 – 15 feet from each other the entire time they were there,” asserts Casi.

Casi then said that she was physically backed into a corner by Mrs. Waggoner, reprimanded for her “attitude,” and criticized for being gay. She contends that her boss then told her that the clients were “freaked out,” saying they “couldn’t believe I let her spray my butt, and she’s gay.” She then maintains that what followed were further criticisms regarding her sexual orientation, not relating in any way to her behavior on the job site.

Due to these circumstances, Casi no longer feels comfortable working at Tan American and gave her two-week notice on June 6, 2006. She has sought employment elsewhere.

Knoxville man verbally assaulted in hostile work environment

Arby’s supervisor, Chris Cruz, has had it with the hostilities he has endured at a local Arby’s. Explicit slurs and constant harassment have caused Chris to speak to his friends that he spends time with at the Knoxville Brewing Company in Knoxville’s continually improving downtown area. Nate Anderson and Ben Barnett are Chris’ friends, and they believe he has been done an injustice.

“We’re going to take it to the Supreme Court if we have to,” states Chris indignantly. “People just don’t know that there aren’t any laws to protect us from this stuff in Tennessee.”

Chris is referring to the lack of employment nondiscrimination and other protective laws that GLBTs enjoy in other, more progressive states.

Despite the fact that Anderson and Barnette are straight, married men with families, they are outraged that this kind of discrimination is allowed in their home state. They fully intend to do something about that.

As of Tuesday, June 13, Chris’ attorneys drafted and sent a letter on his behalf to Arby’s representatives, outlining the conditions under which Chris would agree to return to work. This letter of intent basically communicated a desire for an apology along with a promise that the hostilities in the workplace will cease. Following a three-day period to allow for response, they plan to go forward and file a lawsuit based on sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

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