By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc was sued on Wednesday by a transgender woman who said she was wrongfully fired after complaining about harassment at the Sam's Club warehouse store in North Carolina where she had worked for 11 years.
Charlene Bost, 46, said co-workers at the Kannapolis store where she had been a member service supervisor called her "sir," "that thing with an attitude" and "shim," a slur combining "she" and "him." She also said her male boss subjected her to unwanted physical advances and referred to her as "it."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and improved training to stop harassment of transgender workers at Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. Kannapolis is a suburb of Charlotte.
"Wal-Mart maintains a strong anti-discrimination policy. We support diversity and inclusion in our workforce and do not tolerate discrimination or retaliation of any kind," company spokesman Randy Hargrove said. "We disagree with the claims raised by Ms. Bost. Her termination was for performance reasons. We will respond as appropriate with the court."
North Carolina has also been home to a long-running debate over when transgender people may use public bathrooms.
Bost sued in the same court weighing the legality of a North Carolina bathroom access law passed in March that critics consider too vague.
That law replaced a more controversial "bathroom bill" that caused some businesses to pull events from the state.
According to her complaint, Bost began working in the Kannapolis store in March 2004, and began expressing her female identity there in 2008.
She said she was fired in March 2015 in retaliation for her complaints, or else the perception that she suffered from "gender dysphoria," or distress with the sex she was assigned at birth. Bost had also filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc in New York, which filed Bost's lawsuit, said employers such as Wal-Mart need to understand that simply having tough anti-discrimination policies is not enough.
"The difficulty here is that Wal-Mart has a good policy, but when a person like Ms. Bost came forward to say she was having trouble because of the discrimination she faced, its enforcement mechanisms were insufficient," Weiss said in an interview. "Corporations have to enforce compliance with anti-discrimination policies, not merely cite their existence."
The case is Bost v. Sam's East Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina, No. 17-01148.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)