A Kentucky man and his transgender wife sued Amazon on Wednesday, alleging that they endured sustained discrimination and harassment during a year as co-workers at the mammoth online retailer’s warehouse in northern Kentucky.
A lawyer working with the couple said the case is notable in part because Amazon, one of the nation’s largest corporations, has a record of strongly supporting gay and transgender rights.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, Kentucky, alleges that Dane Lane and Allegra Schawe-Lane were targeted with threats, slurs and sexual harassment by numerous colleagues at their shipping facility. Their complaints to superiors led to retaliation in some cases, rather than any effective steps to halt the abuse, the couple contends.
At one point, according to the suit, the brake line of their car was severed while parked in a secure lot at the workplace in Hebron, Kentucky.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The plaintiffs’ case will be handled by Kentucky lawyers on behalf of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, a national transgender-rights organization.
The fund’s executive director, Jillian Weiss, noted that Amazon has intervened in other court cases in support of transgender rights, and that the company’s Amazon Studios produced the acclaimed television series “Transparent” with a protagonist who transitions from male to female.
“We have a company that touts its transgender friendliness,” Weiss said. “Yet in Kentucky, when a transgender person comes and says, ‘Look, I’m being harassed,’ they get no help.”
Schawe-Lane said she sought a job with Amazon in part because of the company’s reputation as LGBT-friendly. Its own corporate policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I thought we would be safe and accepted,” Schawe-Lane said in a telephone interview. “Instead it was like a bad dream. Every day, I’d wish it was ‘Candid Camera’ and someone would pop out and say it was all a joke.”
The couple was hired by Amazon in October 2014 and resigned a year later, saying conditions at their workplace were intolerable.
Two months before resigning, they filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC declared earlier this year that evidence substantiated some of the couple’s allegations and said they had grounds for a lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks both compensatory payment and punitive damages, with…