Kentucky man, transgender wife sue Amazon for workplace bias

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Mr. Dane Lane and Ms. Allegra Schawe-Lane (Provided) Mr. Dane Lane and Ms. Allegra Schawe-Lane (Provided)

By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer

A Kentucky man and his transgender wife are suing Amazon, alleging that they endured sustained discrimination and harassment during a year as co-workers at an Amazon warehouse in northern Kentucky.

A lawyer working with the couple said the case is notable in part because Amazon, one of the largest corporations in the nation, has a record of strongly supporting gay and transgender rights.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Covington, Kentucky, alleges that Dane Lane and Allegra Schawe-Lane were targeted with threats, slurs and sexual harassment by numerous colleagues at their shipping facility. Complaints to superiors led to retaliation in some cases, rather than any effective steps to halt the abuse, the couple contends.

"It was atrocious. Whether people were threatening to burn me alive or cut my head off or putting their hands on us writing things on the bathroom wall absolutely horrible," Allegra said.

At one point, according to the suit, the brake line of their car was severed while parked in a secure lot at the workplace in Hebron, Kentucky.

"It felt like someone tried to kill us.  The management knew and heard people threaten to harm us and since management turned a blind eye it got to the point where someone in the building figured well I can kill them. No one will care," Dane said. 

The plaintiffs' case will be handled by Kentucky lawyers on behalf of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, a national transgender-rights organization.

The fund's executive director, Jillian Weiss, noted that Amazon has intervened in other court cases in support of transgender rights, and that the company's Amazon Studios produced the acclaimed television series "Transparent" with a protagonist who transitions from male to female.

"We have a company that touts its transgender friendliness," Weiss said. "Yet in Kentucky, when a transgender person comes and says, 'Look, I'm being harassed,' they get no help."

The couple was hired by Amazon in October 2014 and resigned a year later, saying conditions at their workplace were intolerable.

Two months before resigning, they filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC declared earlier this year that evidence substantiated some of the couple's allegations and said they had grounds for a lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks both compensatory payment and punitive damages, with the amount to be determined by a jury. It also seeks a court order requiring Amazon to implement workplace programs that would ensure respectful treatment of transgender employees.

There was no immediate comment from Amazon.

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