Are B&M Stores in England the Fastest Growing Retailer of Employee Discrimination?

An inside look at how B&M stores in England treat their LGBTQ workforce and how one employee is standing up to the hate merchants.

April 24, 2015 was a cool day temperature wise in Northhampton England. The high that day – which took place around 2:00 p.m. – was 57 degrees; around the same time inside the Kettering B&M store, things were about to get downright freezing when the store manager escorted now former employee Amy Walker out of the store for the last time.

Sacked for what the Equality Act of 2010 would label “prohibited conduct” by her employer, Amy Walker was now one of the many unemployed transgender individuals that suddenly saw their stellar work performance records deteriorate rapidly once they decide to transition on the job. “My initial reaction was one of disbelief and complete heartbreak.” Amy told PlanetTransgnder, “I’d put so much into that job and had gone above and beyond so much for them that I couldn’t believe they had done that to me.”

B&M stores is one of the fastest growing retailers in the United Kingdom. Operating over 450 stores across the country under B&M and spreading into Germany under the name JA Woll, the retailer states on their website that they “offer customers a broad range of FMCG brands and non-grocery products at sensational prices,” and their aim is to, “provide customers with a fun and exciting shopping experience, offering them great products and fantastic value so that they return again and again to a B&M store.”

665Fantastic value, however, seems to come at the price of the employees. Glassdoor and Indeed report B&M having a low favorable employee experience, all which elude to favoritism, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and as one former employee said, “blackmailing…during the probation period.”

Strong allegations about a company on the rise, but in a 48 page document attained by PlanetTransgender, it appears that being transgender *is* a laughing matter to the store management of B&M.  Full disclosure, B&M was asked by The Planet to comment on the allegations brought forward by multiple employees, however, they have not responded to comment requests.

The Equality Act of 2010 is the cornerstone of equality in The United Kingdom and states, “An Act to make provision to require Ministers of the Crown and others when making strategic decisions about the exercise of their functions to have regard to the desirability of reducing socio-economic inequalities; to reform and harmonise equality law and restate the greater part of the enactments relating to discrimination and harassment related to certain personal characteristics.”

682In short, it sets forth the legal rules of engagement to be followed by employers concerning an employee’s rights. Among others, protected “characteristics” include sex, sexual orientation, civil partnership and gender reassignment; but the Equality Act of 2010 takes the protection one step further. It offers protection to a person who is assumed part of one of these classes, but is not. An example is: If someone thinks Jane is transgender – but she’s cisgender – and teases her about “looking like a transsexual,” this would be a violation of the Equality Act of 2010.

I was also terrified about how I was going to survive without a job. First thing I did was call a friend for help, she insisted that I go to her as she was extremely worried about me. I went home, collected a few things and left town to go stay with my friends. I was in a state of shock for the whole thing, and for the next day, but on the Sunday it fully hit me and I broke down completely and was left pretty useless for the next week in fits of panic and tears.

Employee dismissals are common place among the transgender community once the on-the-job transition begins, but in the case of Amy Walker, there appears to be a general lack of professionalism and favoritism at the Kettering B&M store and what appears to be regular violations of the Equality Act of 2010, not just against Amy, but other LGBTQ+ employees.

666In-store CCTV video has captured cisgender employees acting with gross misconduct on a regular basis with no disciplinary actions. Reckless endangerment of a forklift including operating a forklift without a licenses, employees helping themselves to the tills, giving friends employee discounts, deliberate destruction of company property and exit doors being unlocked and open all night all seem to be humorous acts and “racer boy” fun for the management team.

It’s a different story when it comes to employees on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Management has been allegedly using slurs like ‘geezer-bird’ when referring to a lesbian staff member. Terms like ‘butch,’ ‘dykes,’ ‘lezzers’ and constant mis-gendering of transgender employees and customers seems to also flow in a humorous manner from the mouths of the store managers; all clear violations of the Equality Act of 2010.

According to Ms. Walker, “this culture of disregard for the rules and procedures was quickly adopted by multiple members of the staff who flouted the rules without any action being taken against them, in some occasions when their actions were extremely obvious and evidence was present.” Amy continues, “To let so many others get away scot-free with gross misconduct offenses and punishing me without any warning that expectations within the store had changed is nothing short of appalling.”

667Restroom facilities were denied until a “full transition was completed,” allegations and questions about the comfort of customers where pushed forward and most importantly, confidential employee records – such as Amy Walkers’ – were left open, unsecured and filed under ‘Informal Discussion Template’ for anyone in the store to gain access to…again, all violations of the Equality Act of 2010.

A Memorandum of understanding is defined in the GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society) document ‘LEGAL unfortunately none of these practices were followed as I was never once approached by a member of the company HR department, whether in person, by phone or by email, to discuss my situation. I received no reviews following this one conversation, despite requests to do so. More importantly though, this document was not kept secure.

Granted, UK transgender law is not my forte, so I reached out to Press for Change, The UK’s leading experts on Transgender Law to help me break down the Equality Act of 2010. They were kind enough to supply PlanetTransgender with Fact-Sheet-07: Taking a Claim to a UK Employment Tribunal.

The fact-sheet addresses the definition of gender reassignment and clearly states that gender reassignment under the act is a social process as well as a medical process. It immediately debunks B&M’s managers alleged “full complete transition” for bathroom use argument and seems to make a case in Ms. Walker’s favor that this specific store has violated her human rights. According to the document, even if you have not yet transitioned and have the real intention of starting the process, you are protected under the Equality Act of 2010. The only caveat to the Act is that is does not cover gender fluid, gender non-conforming or gender-queer individuals stating, “There is no place in the law to accommodate an entirely androgynous – or swap-able look.

683In Amy Walker’s case, she clearly made her intention to transition on the job known to her immediate supervisors, as well as the corporate HR department stating, “If I am permitted to take on the full legal status of a female (as I would be presenting) within the eyes of UK law, without any need of surgery of any kind, why is it that B&M feels that it is above the law in this situation and that they can dictate rules that are illegal?”

684Illegal indeed, section 26 of the Equality Act defines harassment as, “any unwanted conduct related to a person’s Trans status which has the purpose or effect or violating their dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Examples include derogatory remarks about sex changes, failing to call Trans people by their preferred name, joking about people who are transgender, making sexual comments, and using incorrect pronouns all amount to unlawful harassment of a Trans person under UK law. Incidences that have all allegedly occurred at the Kettering B&M store, as-well-as other stores according to employee reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed.

Statistically, 41% of people who are transgender will attempt suicide, a number 10-12 times the global average; but when it comes to the socio-economic issues facing people who are transgender in the UK, the numbers are fragmented and out-dated. According to a 2004 report by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services AGCAS], economically inactive people who are transgender was at 17% compared to the national average of 5.1%. During the same period, 51% of those surveyed had changed employer, 62% were forced to leave their employer and of that 62%, “29% felt the conditions of employment were such that they were forced to leave voluntarily.”

In 2013, a Scottish Government report painted a picture that was virtually unchanged from 2004’s report. The Scottish Government Equality Outcomes: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Evidence Review reported that 29% of respondents experienced verbal harassment at work and over 50% of people who are transgender suffer from discrimination in the UK workplace.

In a 2011 online survey in the UK, “In an online survey of Transgender people in the UK in April 2011, employment was identified as being the second top area of concern for the Transgender community, with around a third (31%) of respondents selecting it as their priority. Difficulty in gaining and retaining employment was considered the most important challenge that Transgender people face, with two-thirds of respondents (66%) identifying it as the most important challenge.”

The court date is now set and Amy Walker has set up a GoFundMe page to help with her legal defense at the UK Employment Tribunal.  During her forced time off however, her health has deteriorated and she has been forced to relocate to a new city to find work, resulting in a debt crisis situation. Depression, sleep issues and damaged relations with her friends and family only scratch the surface of the trauma she is currently enduring as a result of B&M’s alleged mishandling of her transition.

 

Full Disclosure: Claire-Channel reached out to B&M stores HR Department for comment, but as of press time, they have not responded.

Originally published on PlanetTransgender: 10/06/2015