Ex-Employee Sues Whole Foods for $75K for Anti-Gay Harassment, Discrimination

Thursday September 22, 2016

A former employee for Whole Foods in Boulder, Colo., is suing the supermarket company for anti-gay harassment and discrimination she said she endured, and is seeking $75,000 in damages, the Denver Post reports.

Jennifer Johnston, who is lesbian, claims her boss frequently asked her if she thought other people in the market were gay. She says her boss said that she would know who was gay because Johnston, who is married to a woman, could use her "gaydar," a federal employment discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver, which was obtained by the Post.

In the suit, Johnston claims she experienced similar type of discriminatory harassment on a daily basis at the Whole Foods location, which she called a "hostile and abusive" work environment. She said it led to her "constructive" resignation, according to the court papers.

Johnston worked at the Boulder Whole Foods after transferring there from a Pennsylvania location on Dec. 5, 2014. She resigned on July 22, 2015 and said most of the abuse started in February 2015 and came from her supervisor Tawny Duckworth, who no longer works at Whole Foods, according to the Post.

Along with allegedly making fun of the way she dressed, Duckworth asked Johnston's coworkers if she looked gay enough and used derogatory language. The suit says Duckworth asked Johnston questions based on "butch" lesbian stereotypes and personal questions, like if she and her partner had "hotel sex" while on vacation like straight couples. Duckworth often asked Johnston if other people were gay, telling her, "well, you are gay, can't you point out who else is gay?" the suit says.

Johnston says she asked her boss to stop asking offensive questions that focused on her gender and sexual orientation. After filing a discrimination complaint with the store's general manager on July 2, 2015, she received an apology and an offer to work a different shift to avoid Duckworth. But another coworker had issues with Johnston and she later resigned from Whole Foods.

"Said resignation constituted an involuntary termination," the suit reads, according to the Post.

Johnston is looking for $75,000 in damages for emotional distress, which includes mental anguish, according to the court docs. She's also seeking future and past pay, as well as punitive damages.