Cases & Advocacy

Wade v. Starbucks Corp. Amicus

Status: Open

Outcome: Pending


Jurisdiction + Case Number: CALIFORNIA FIFTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, NO. F079838

On August 21, 2020, NCLR and Lambda Legal led a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations and legal aid groups in submitting a proposed amicus brief urging California’s Fifth Appellate District to reverse a trial court ruling against Maddie Wade, a former employee of Starbucks in Fresno. On August 27, 2020, the court granted leave to file the amicus brief. The case is Wade v. Starbucks Corporation.

Maddie Wade, who worked for Starbucks for eight years, sued Starbucks and her former manager, Dustin Guthrie. The lawsuit alleges that Ms. Wade experienced discrimination, harassment, wrongful constructive termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ms. Wade alleges that after Mr. Guthrie learned she is transgender, he began to treat her negatively, including by cutting her hours and by referring to her exclusively by her former male name and male nicknames. The trial court in Fresno County granted summary judgment to Starbucks, and Ms. Wade appealed.

The amicus brief provides additional context by explaining that transgender people in California and nationwide face significant adverse treatment in the workplace, including the misuse of their names and pronouns. Being subjected to such adverse treatment is stigmatizing and harmful. Like many other forms of workplace discrimination, it can cause serious emotional and psychological harms, including anxiety and depression. It also interferes with employees’ ability to do their jobs. Shining a constant spotlight on an employee’s transgender identity calls attention to a characteristic that is irrelevant to workplace performance. It sends a clear message both to the worker and to others that a transgender employee is not a valued, equal, or respected member of the workforce.

The brief also explains that under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer’s intentional misuse of a transgender employee’s name or pronouns is unlawful discrimination, as it constitutes explicit disparate treatment in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The intentional or repeated misuse of a transgender employee’s name and pronoun may also constitute unlawful harassment under the FEHA.

Amici are represented by NCLR and Lambda Legal. Additional amici joining the brief are: American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Equality California, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Legal Aid at Work, Legal Services of Northern California, Transgender Law Center, and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

The Peter Law Group and Impact Fund represent Ms. Wade on appeal.