A new bout of litigation recently commenced in federal court in Camden after a lesbian employee filed a lawsuit against Wawa convenience store for unleashing an unrelenting torrent of sexual orientation harassment and discrimination against her, which culminated in her wrongful termination from the company.

Former Wawa employee Wendy Thomas stated that she first noticed a discernible difference in her treatment by management at the start of 2013, after she founded a Gay-Straight Alliance club at her company. For example, Thomas alleges she was prohibited from applying to a position at Wawa that would afford her a raise in salary although she was qualified since the new job entailed tasks and responsibilities similar to those of her position as lead trainer. According to the suit, once Thomas’ supervisor discovered that she was an active participant in the company’s Gay-Straight Alliance organization, he allocated her a new work assignment at a site located much farther away, requiring an hour and a half-long commute.

The sexual orientation harassment that Thomas suffered at the hands of her supervisor was allegedly directly displayed by his flippant, irreverent and derisive remarks about National Coming Out Day. Upon seeing the designated day clearly labelled in Thomas’ calendar, the supervisor reportedly conveyed a disrespectful attitude by jeering and taunting while addressing Thomas’ fellow coworker: “…do you know what day it is? Do you have something to tell us? Don’t you think you should come out and tell us?” During a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting, Thomas recounted this episode of bullying, detailing her supervisor’s gratuitous insults and his disparaging commentary on National Coming Out Day.

At the behest of the marketing director, Thomas claims she filed a complaint against her supervisor with Wawa’s Human Resources department. However, as alleged by Thomas, her efforts to curb and deter further harassment were to no avail; she faced the undue repercussion of her supervisor’s illegal retaliation for having complained about her mistreatment. Thomas asserted that subsequent interactions with her supervisor became intolerable and “unbearable.” Although she could formerly pride herself on an untarnished reputation with the company, having only received favorable feedback and positive evaluations in the past 22 years of her employment, Thomas received her first uncharacteristically poor performance review since she was hired in 1991. During her critique, Thomas’ supervisor asserted that their tenuous work relationship was fraught with disrespect and mistrust because she had filed a complaint against him.

Instead of implementing corrective and preventative measures to protect Thomas against further harassment from her supervisor and redress her grievance, the company allegedly penalized her by imposing a “personal improvement plan” that defied the established terms of her employment by changing her schedule and forcing her to arrive at work earlier than 9 a.m. on a daily basis. Due to her minor tardiness on a few occasions, Thomas’ personal improvement plan was prolonged, and she was ultimately fired on July 7, 2014.

O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble has successfully handled many employment law cases in which an employer creates and perpetuates a hostile work environment fueled by discrimination based on sexual orientation. A company’s willingness to condone such harassment and its failure to correct abusive conditions exacerbate the plight of employees who are targeted for their sexual orientation. When harassment is left unchecked, victims suffer severe and seemingly insurmountable psychological harm, including mental anguish, shame, humiliation and embarrassment, as well as other crippling emotional consequences.

If you have questions regarding discrimination in the workplace and are considering your options, contact us either online, by email, or by phone at 908-928-9200.

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