Transgender Whole Foods Employee Sues For Harassment; BTW, Whole Foods Is A Terrible Place To Work

Transgender former Chelsea Whole Foods employee Victor Alexander King is suing the company for harassment, claiming that his coworkers referred to him as “she,” “her,” and “it,” and that his supervisor told him, “I know you are not a guy, I am not going to refer to you as a guy.”

King says that he went through all the right channels — he reported the harassment to human resources, but they didn’t do anything. Then he contacted the Ali Forney Center, and they helped pressure the store to have team members take workplace harassment classes. But the harassment continued, and King was forced to leave his job.

Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Sinatra said that “as a company, we have long celebrated diversity and acceptance and have zero tolerance for discrimination. Our diverse and inclusive culture is reflected in our team member base, including our leadership, as well as in community partnerships here in New York City.”

In my experience, having worked at Whole Foods for over three years, it is absolutely untrue that Whole Foods has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in practice. Having the right policies in your employee manual and hiring diverse people on the bottom rung of the company makes no difference if you don’t actually enforce your policies.

And it wouldn’t be that hard: Like any other employer, Whole Foods could just issue warnings and fire people who continue to harass other team members. But because Whole Foods promotes from within, the people who are doing the harassment more often than not (again, in my personal, anecdotal experience) are the people who have been there the longest.

Add to that their terrible high-deductible insurance policy, which has no psychiatric benefits whatsoever, and you create a situation in which diverse people are likely to get hired but also likely to leave because of harassment, a lack of impetus on the company’s part to stop protecting long-tenured employees and actually address that harassment, a lack of motivation on those long-tenured employees’ part to stop their team from harassing someone as well, and a lack of resources to help employees cope with that harassment. Whole Foods might hire diverse Team Members, but then it puts the onus on them to deal with other employees being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, intolerant of religion, and so on.

Here’s a question for Whole Foods: How’s your Midwest Regional Executive Board looking, these days? The company no longer lists the names and pictures of their executives on their web site, so it’s hard to tell if it’s still staffed completely by white men, which doesn’t exactly demonstrate a dedication on their part to promoting diversity and developing diverse talent.

And don’t be fooled by the fact that Whole Foods is consistently ranked as one of the best companies to work for in Fortune. Again, there was plenty of turnover in the bottom rungs of Whole Foods’ employees, so the people taking the quiz are either newbs who have been recently mama-birded the Whole Foods Kool-Aid, or they’re the employees who have benefitted from Whole Foods the longest.

In short, it doesn’t surprise me that King was compelled to file this lawsuit, and I hope that one day soon, Whole Foods cleans up their act and starts actually enforcing their harassment and discrimination policies. Until then, Whole Foods shoppers and potential employees, just know that in so many ways, the company is not what they claim to be.


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