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Know Your Rights
Source: Staten Island Advance
Subject: TGNCIQ Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Staten Island Group Protests Against Clothing Company Exec Over Transgender Rights

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The glamour and glitz of Fashion Week is under way in Midtown Manhattan, but a Staten Island advocacy group is looking to make a different fashion statement on the doorstep of an Arrochar home.

Dozens of members of the Port Richmond-based Make the Road New York picketed in front of the home of Lynda Markoe, executive vice president of human resources for Manhattan-based J. Crew. The non-profit group known for fighting for immigrants’ rights has taken up a new battle against the clothing retailer for allegedly discriminating against “transgender people.”

The protesters spent hours last week holding signs and handing out fliers to Ms. Markoe’s Landis Avenue neighbors — and they plan to go back again, hoping the harassment will convince the company to change its hiring practices.

The group filed a complaint with the state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo last year, claiming the preppy clothing stores violate the city’s human rights laws. That was after a Make the Road investigation of dozens of Manhattan retailers allegedly found J. Crew denied jobs to an openly transgender applicants, but gave them to straight applicants with the same qualifications.

American Eagle Outfitters, which was also under investigation, settled with the AG’s office in May, agreeing to eliminate a personal appearance policy that banned men from wearing women’s clothing and women from dressing as men. The chain also agreed to train its staff on transgender sensitivity — such as which pronouns to use when referring to workers and customers.

So far, neither Ms. Markoe nor J. Crew have responded to requests to make similar changes, said Irene Tung, Make the Road’s lead organizer and researcher said.

Ms. Markoe could not be reached for comment.

J. Crew, which also did not respond to an Advance inquiry, denies charges that it discriminates against transgender job applicants, according to a statement posted on Crain’s New York

“The allegations made by Make the Road New York are totally without merit,” said a J. Crew spokeswoman. “J. Crew does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. We have a zero tolerance for any type of discrimination across our entire company.”

Said Ms. Tung regarding Ms. Markoe: “She plays a big role in the company’s hiring practices. I think it would be an important message for them to send.”

The organization focused on J. Crew because the stores displayed a pattern of discrimination, Ms. Tung added. During the investigation, one of the transgender employment testers applied at the 5th Avenue J. Crew store and “was treated brusquely, told to fill out an application and was never called,” she said. His “testing partner” — a non-transgender man whose qualifications, work experience, race and age were exactly the same — entered the store a few minutes later, was interviewed on the spot and offered a job soon after. Another pair of testers documented a similar experience.

Overall, the Make the Road study found 42 percent of job applicants who are transgender experienced discrimination — higher than the rate of discrimination documented for other populations, including the elderly or African-Americans.

“The law is pretty clear that gender identity is a protected class,” Ms. Tung said. “I think there may be people who are uncomfortable with it, but there are also people who may say they uncomfortable with black people, or Asians, or disabled persons.”