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Amazon Allowed Horrific Abuse Against Trans Woman, Lawsuit Alleges

"My husband Dane and I were devoted to our jobs. In return, we were treated atrociously by our co-workers and our bosses, simply because I am a woman."

Gabby Bess

Gabby Bess

Allegra Schawe-Lane (right) and Dane Lane (left). Photo courtesy of Transgender Defense and Educational Fund

Allegra Schawe-Lane and her husband, Dane Lane, say that they were sexually harassed, threatened, and wrongfully denied pay while they were employees at an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky because Schawe-Lane is transgender.

In a lawsuit, filed in the Eastern Kentucky District court on Wednesday, the couple claim that "Amazon deliberately created working conditions that a reasonable person would perceive to be intolerable."

The lawsuit states that an Amazon employee who was designated as a "coach" was given paperwork that disclosed Schawe-Lane's name prior to her transition; soon after Schawe-Lane was hired at Amazon in 2014, the coach told multiple other employees, supervisors, and managers that Schawe-Lane was transgender.

The couple say this started a torrent of discriminatory acts: Schawe-Lane's coworkers intentionally referred to her using male pronouns in order to humiliate her, they called her slurs like "tranny prostitute" and "chick with a dick," and peered into the bathroom stall Schawe-Lane was using in an attempt to view her genitalia.

Read more: For Trans Women of Color, Safe Employment Is a Matter of Life and Death

In one instance, the lawsuit states, "A group of women entered the restroom and one loudly exclaimed, 'It's in here right now;" another woman responded, 'Maybe we should just drag it outside the fucking stall.'"

Schawe-Lane says that she avoided using the restroom in this hostile environment and this lead to severe bladder and kidney infections that required emergency medical treatment.

The lawsuit also states that Amazon displayed Schawe-Lane's name prior to her transition on the assignment board, on her ID badge, and within the company-wide computer system and refused to correct this.

Both Schawe-Lane and her husband also faced sexual harassment from their coworker, Tony Hughett, according to the suit. Hughett allegedly presented Schawe-Lane and with porn and sex toys at work, propositioned Lane for sex, and "gyrated his crotch" against Lane's buttocks.

The abuse by coworkers and management culminated when someone allegedly cut the brakes on Schawe-Lane's car, which the couple discovered when they were driving home from work.

"A group of women entered the restroom and one loudly exclaimed 'it's in here right now;" another woman responded, 'maybe we should just drag it outside the fucking stall.'"

Schawe-Lane and her husband reported each incident of discrimination and harassment to Amazon's HR department, but HR did not take the necessary steps to investigate the complaints, according to the lawsuit. In fact, Amazon allegedly retaliated against the couple by closely monitoring their work, disallowing them from taking breaks together, giving them undesirable tasks, and improperly deducting from Schawe-Lane's paycheck. "On several occasions," the suit states, "managers or HR refused Ms. Schawe-Lane's requests for permission to leave work so that she could go to the emergency room or otherwise seek immediate treatment for a medical emergency."

After the brake-cutting incident, Schawe-Lane and her husband say they feared for their lives. Amazon then agreed that the couple should be transferred to a different warehouse facility, but the discrimination only continued there, the lawsuit states.

In addition, Amazon allegedly restricted the couple's ability to file discrimination complaints at the new facility. They were required to report instances of discrimination on the same day that it happened, and if they failed to do so they could be fired. The couple say this proved difficult because HR personnel were not always working during their shifts.

Lane attempted to take disability leave for the extreme stress he was experiencing, but he was denied. By October 2015, the lawsuit states, the couple was forced to quit because the discrimination and subsequent retaliation took such a toll on their mental and physical health. According to the lawsuit, they both sought immediate medical treatment and were hospitalized.

With the help of Jillian Weiss, now the executive director of Transgender Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Schawe-Lane and her husband filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over Amazon's alleged Title XII violations in 2015. According to the lawsuit and documents provided to Broadly, the EEOC investigation, which concluded earlier this year, found evidence that substantiated the couple's discrimination claims.

"My husband Dane and I were devoted to our jobs. In return, we were treated atrociously by our co-workers and our bosses, simply because I am a woman."

The couple has now moved forward with a lawsuit. They hope that Amazon will institute policies and training regarding transgender employees so that similarly horrifying incidents don't happen again.

"My husband Dane and I were devoted to our jobs. In return, we were treated atrociously by our
co-workers and our bosses, simply because I am a woman," Schawe-Lane said in a press release. "No one deserves to be singled out and abused the way we were. The trauma we withstood still impacts us negatively today, creating serious health problems and leaving us with no money to pay for the doctors we desperately need. We are filing this lawsuit to ensure that no other transgender person or their spouse ever face such job discrimination at Amazon in the future."

In the same press release, Weiss said the alleged abuse the couple faced while they were employed at Amazon is hypocritical, given the company's reputation of being LGBTQ-friendly. "We are particularly disheartened about this discrimination at Amazon, given the impact of its highly celebrated digital series, Transparent, a groundbreaking program on Amazon Prime that continues to win awards for depicting the transgender experience in a positive, sensitive, and multi-dimensional manner. Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund even honored Transparent at its Freedom Awards Benefit in 2015," Weiss said.

"While we in no way connect this case to the program and its talented writers, actors, and producers, we do call on Amazon to examine the disconnect between the message of its hit show Transparent and the discrimination perpetrated against Allegra and Dane at Amazon's Hebron, Kentucky, shipping facility."

Amazon has not responded to a request for comment.