Lawsuit: Taste NY shop with local connection discriminated against transgender man

Taste NY Grand Central store is open for business.

A North Fork winery that operates the state-sponsored “Taste NY Grand Central” store in Manhattan is being sued for gender discrimination by a transgender man who claims to have been discriminated against and later fired by the store’s owners because of his gender identity disorder.

The lawsuit was brought by Alexandria Miller, a “trans male” who identifies as male and prefers to be called Josh Miller, according to the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by Mr. Miller. In the suit, Mr. Miller seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, including job reinstatement, compensation for lawyers’ fees and payment of lost wages.

Taste NY is a state initiative launched in 2013 to promote New York’s food and beverage industries. It provides local producers with the chance to showcase their goods at large public events and at 26 stores in high-traffic locations.

North Fork Wines & Vineyards LLC, which owns One Woman Wines & Vineyards in Southold, was awarded a contract to operate the Taste NY shop in Grand Central Station, a 460-square-foot storefront that opened in 2014.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Miller, who lives in Queens, says he submitted an application to work at Taste NY Grand Central on March 1, 2015. He said he made it clear to business owner Gabriella Purita that he is transgender and wanted to be referred to as Josh while on the job.

He was hired that same day and began working five days a week for eight hours per day, according to the suit.

About a week after Mr. Miller was hired, the suit states, Ms. Purita’s father, Frank, began visiting the store on a frequent basis and took control of its operation when Mr. Miller was present.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Purita refused to refer to Mr. Miller as Josh and soon reduced his work schedule to three days per week. He would also “talk down” to Mr. Miller and “assign him menial tasks to keep him away from the customers of the store,” the suit states.

When reached by phone Wednesday, Mr. Purita said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.  A representative with the governor’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Miller claims that prior to Mr. Purita’s arrival, he was working at the store as a barista and also had a customer service position there. The job required a high level of customer interaction, something Mr. Miller said changed after Mr. Purita became involved.

According to the suit, Mr. Purita made discriminatory comments about Mr. Miller, saying he was “stuck in between” or referring to him as a “thing” or “he/she.”

Mr. Miller also alleges that Mr. Purita often sent him home early, claiming business at the store was “slow,” while allowing other employees to keep working. He says he brought this to Ms. Purita’s attention, but no remedial action was taken. Mr. Miller claims he consequently became depressed and suffered from sleep deprivation in anticipation of going to work.

On May 5, 2015, Mr. Miller, who says he made less than $300 per week at Taste NY, was fired after Ms. Purita told him that “investors” stated the company needed to make cuts. But Mr. Miller claims the store continued to hire new employees after his position was terminated and that those employees worked more hours and received higher wages than he had.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Southern Court, makes claims including gender discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability, retaliation for claiming discrimination, creating a hostile work environment and disability discrimination. It accuses the Puritas of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the state Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.

On June 2, 2015, Mr. Miller filed a discrimination charge against the business with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging disability and gender discrimination, and a charge of retaliation, but those charges were dismissed.

On Dec. 10, the EEOC issued a dismissal and notice of rights letter stating, “Based upon its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained established violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story did not include information about the EEOC complaint.

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