Christian-owned apparel company, Forever 21, has responded to a discrimination lawsuit recently filed against them by a transgender employee by saying the company has "zero tolerance for discrimination."
In a statement sent to The Christian Post on Thursday, the billion-dollar company confirmed that it is investigating a complaint filed by Alexia Daskalakis, 22, formerly known as Anthony, earlier this month. The former Brooklyn-based employee filed the lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court on April 1 claiming she was unlawfully discriminated against by management after transitioning to a woman and she is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
"At Forever 21, we are committed to diversity and inclusion in our stores and in all business related activities, and strive to maintain a safe and respectful work environment for all employees," Forever 21 wrote in a statement to CP. "While we cannot comment on the specifics of the pending case, we take this matter very seriously and are currently conducting an internal investigation. We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any sort."
In court documents obtained by CP, Dasakalakis, who was employed by the company for four years, claims managers at a Brooklyn store began treating her with "increasing contempt" in Jan. 2014 when she informed them that she was transitioning from male to female. She also claims that she was fired in Jan. this year without reason after she complained about the alleged mistreatment.
Forever 21 was founded in 1984 by the Chang family, Do Won and Jin Sook Chang, who are devout Christians. Their commitment to faith is reflected on the bottom of the company's trademark yellow shopping bags, which has "John 3:16," printed on them in reference to the Bible verse that reads:"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
The Los Angeles-based company employs about 30,000 people and makes over $3 billion annually.
"This is a lawsuit where our client is alleging that she was discriminated against on account of her status as being transgender," Daskalakis' lawyer, David Gottlieb of Wigdor LLP, told CP.
Daskalakis' former supervisor, Patrick Walmsley, is named in the lawsuit as one of the senior staff members who allegedly mocked her transition. When recently contacted by CP he declined to comment and hung up.
"You used to be a hard worker when you were a guy, but not anymore," Daskalakis quoted one of her managers as saying. She was then fired shortly after complaining.
The former Visual Merchandiser was promoted from her role as sales associate years prior to the transition and claims she had a good work performance history with the company. She says that when she told her managers that she was beginning hormone treatments as part of her transition last year, the alleged mistreatment became worse when she "began dressing in a more traditionally feminine manner, such as wearing more form-fitting clothing and applying more traditionally feminine makeup."
According to Gottlieb, his client received no support in the form of counseling or otherwise from her bosses after informing them of her life-changing transition. Instead, Walmsley told her to simply "make sure it [didn't] affect [her] work," the complaint alleges.
Walmsey allegedly began humiliating Daskalakis in front of fellow staff members. She claims that at one point, she was harshly criticized by Walmsley for wearing shorts paired with a crop-top because he deemed it to be "offensive."
"You're still a male, so you need to abide by the male dress code," Walmsley was quoted as saying. He allegedly called her "disgusting" and ordered her to cover-up despite allowing other female employees to dress the same way.
The Brooklyn native claims that in addition to allegedly being called vicious names, her work performance was unfairly criticized.
"I said, 'I haven't changed anything. Your perspective has changed,'" she said.
Another manager is accused of calling Daskalakis a "hot mess."
Despite forwarding complaints to Human Resources, Daskalakis says she was ignored and eventually fired in Jan. without any explanation. Bosses told her to contact HR regarding her termination, who are yet to return her calls.
"I was devastated. You put all your hard work into working for one company, and they respond by being ruthless," she told the Daily News. "It hurt."