I’m Out of a Job Because My Boss Didn’t Think I Look Like a Woman

I didn’t look the part, so I was forced to quit.

Chili’s, where I worked for nearly two years, was starting a new management training program and my superiors encouraged me to apply. It was a great opportunity, and I was excited about the prospect of a promotion.

I was planning to buy a home for the first time, and the pay increase would have helped a lot. I’m a single mother, so what I earn matters. I’m also a lesbian, a part of my identity that influences how I dress.

I’d started working at a Phoenix, Arizona, Chili’s two years earlier. Right away, I loved it. The people who worked there became like a family to me. I worked in several roles at the restaurant, including cook, expediter, and host. Most recently, I was a server — and I was good at it. My customer reviews were always top-notch.

When I was asked to learn more about Chili’s new Certified Shift Leader program, which would allow me to take another step up the corporate ladder, I was thrilled. I attended a seminar about the program in June. I never thought that what I wore to the seminar would cause the end of my Chili’s career.

I attended the seminar wearing an outfit I felt confident in — a men’s button-up shirt, fitted slacks, and boat shoes. It was professional attire and similar to what I saw male managers wear to work. But after the seminar, my manager relayed to me that his boss, the district manager, had seen me at the seminar and thought my clothes were inappropriate. I brushed it off and applied to be a certified shift leader anyway.

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After interviewing with the district manager, I was offered the promotion — on one condition: I needed to “dress more gender appropriate,” in the words of my manager. I asked him, “Are you telling me that I need to have my breasts hanging out to be successful in your company?” He answered, “Not in those words.” I asked him why I could not wear a chef-style coat like the one he was wearing and he replied, “It’s for boys.”

No, it is not. I am speaking out now to tell that manager — and every other person who thinks similarly — that women do not need to be stereotypically feminine in order to get a promotion or be an effective employee or manager.

I couldn’t continue to work at a place where my willingness to conform to a stereotype was more important than my job performance. So I left a job that I enjoyed and said goodbye to the coworkers I considered family.

I later learned from a coworker that I had been overlooked for a bartender position because the same manager “didn’t want a gay girl behind the bar” because he didn’t think I would attract the right kind of clientele.

To add insult to injury, when I wrote to Chili’s to tell them what I had experienced, they said I must be lying because the manager’s best friend is gay. Having a gay friend doesn’t excuse what happened to me. I was so disappointed that the company I loved didn’t even apologize or try to make things right, not just for me, but for all of the other employees who still work there.

That’s why on Wednesday, with the help of the ACLU, I filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Chili’s for sex discrimination. My opportunities at a company like Chili’s should not be limited because I am a lesbian who does not conform to Chili’s stereotypes about what a woman should look like.

Learn more about the legal action

After I was forced to quit, I was unemployed for a month. I finally found a new server job, but as the new employee, I get fewer hours on the schedule and so I’m earning significantly less than I did at Chili’s.

I am now working my way back up the ladder. Who knows how long it will be before I am considered for a management position again. My dream of buying my first home is on hold, which obviously disappoints me. But the alternative — being forced to conform to a stereotype that conflicts with my identity every time I go to work — would have been unbearable.

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Anonymous

Ah, I don’t think you get it at all. She wasn’t being defiant. She was being herself, comfortable and professional (suit not jeans, dress shoes not tennis shoes and dress shirt not t-shirt). Your she’s a girl and should dress like a girl is the same point the district manager made. And it’s WRONG!

Anonymous

Customers don’t need to know your gender. For any reason. It’s not distracting. It is literally no ones business. She wore professional attire. Period. It doesn’t matter what gender those clothes are traditionally assigned to so long as professional clothing is worn in a setting that requires it.

Sarah Louise

The article doesn't describe the person showing up in ripped clothing, or a clown costume or unwashed and stained clothing - it describes showing up in clean, tidy, professional clothing. Corporate culture needs to stop dictating that women wear "feminine" clothing and men wear "masculine" clothing. This is a person with solid experience who dressed smartly and who is looking to move up in a company. I hope Chili's gets taken to the cleaners, for sure, but more importantly - I hope they are forced to examine their policies.

Anonymous

"Wearing men's clothes to the seminar was stupid and distracting."

So perhaps she should have worn a women's button-up collared shirt instead...you know...because the buttons are on the other side? Because that's the key difference between the two.

"... it's not professional to bring defiance of convention to work."

She didn't. She wore what she normally wears. A button-up collared shirt is generally considered at the very least "business casual".

"If you are a server in a mainstream restaurant and the customers have to look twice just tell your gender it distracts them and it's not good for business."

If you're distracted by the gender of your server in a restaurant, and that distraction isn't the typical run-of-the-mill physical attraction, then it's you who needs to look inward.

"If appearing gender-nonconforming is important to you then work someplace where it fits in better and people won't criticize you, such as a hip local restaurant."

Chili's is a rather hip place...not exactly posh, either.

"This is not caving in. this is showing a willingness to be professional and fit into a corporate culture."

Again, a button-up collared shirt is professional-looking, including on women. There is a 5-star hotel just up the road from me, and in their restaurants as well as the rest of the hotel staff, the women wear button-up collared shirts. They look great...in fact, I think they look very nice.

You opened your comment with "equality and personal choice" but then followed it up with a stream of excuses to justify the opposite. You are part of the problem. SMH Grow up.

Anonymous

Clearly, you do not support equality and personal choice. You should think long and hard about that.

You say she should instead pick someplace to work where her identity is tolerated because the mainstream work culture won't accept who she is. This is the same argument that was used to exclude blacks from society before the Civil Rights Movement. Their "black" identities were only acceptable in designated, segregated areas. "Separate but equal" is never equal.

She has every right to get a job she is qualified for, and the style of the fabric she decides to put on her body has nothing to do with her qualifications.

Pro-Lesbian

As respectfully as possible, that is utter nonsense. If it is professional for a man to wear clothes like hers, then it is professional for a woman to do so as well. Anything else is sex discrimination, no way around it. I am so glad to be part of a younger generation that is starting to leave these outdated conventions behind.

Megan Frola

It sickens me and please be proud of your stance and know that we know how hard it will be for you, hencely all of humankind.

Anonymous

Another reason to expand the federal “Civil Rights Act” public accommodations to include two new categories: LGBT Americans and political speech [ex: non-public social media retaliation by companies and government]. Need ASAP.

Krystle Alonzo

This is completely ignorant of them . your perfect just the way you are. Your amazing n your personality n the way you are as a person keeps customers. Not the way u dress or who u sleep with. Fuck chillis!!

Anonymous

Maybe before you quit your job, you should have found another job to go to, that would pay you close to what you were making. This seems to be a self inflicted problem for you and now you are wanting sympathy from everyone for your mistake. Suck it up!!!

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