Fio Dehart simply wanted people to know the pronouns she uses — she/her.
She found that putting them on her nametag at Market of Choice kept her from being misgendered or harassed. However, Dehart says that she and her partner, another employee at Market of Choice’s Delta Oaks location who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, were told that having the pronouns on their nametags violated the grocery chain’s dress code.
“I wasn’t comfortable taking them off,” Dehart says of the pronouns. “Taking them off contributed to a hostile work environment.” She says she would rather risk getting fired than not stand up for herself.
Dehart suggested options such as putting the pronouns on a separate pin, but she says her store manager kept blaming the corporate offices and rules.
Dehart and other transgender former employees of Market of Choice allege the grocery chain outed them, exposed them to hostility and has a health insurance policy that doesn’t cover transgender people.
Market of Choice says it doesn’t discriminate.
Dehart says she had stepped into a break room to discuss the situation with her partner, at which point her store manager came in and told her to take her things out of her locker and go. Dehart assumed she was fired. She says she later heard she had been suspended, but was never told that.
At that point in February 2019, Dehart had worked at Market of Choice for a year and a half. Dehart’s partner later quit, feeling uncomfortable, Dehart says, in that work environment.
Nicholas Cooley, who like Dehart is a transgender person, says he was also troubled by his experiences at Market of Choice. Cooley started working in the kitchen at Market of Choice in 2016 and at the time used female pronouns. In 2017 he went to his store manager saying, “I’m trans, I’m coming out, these are my pronouns. Is this going to be OK? Can I come to you?”
“I knew it would be difficult,” Cooley says. “At the time I guess I was ashamed of being trans. When problems arose, I didn’t have the tools.”
Six months after coming out, Cooley says employees at the store still mis-gendered him, publicly using the wrong pronouns and blowing off Cooley’s requests to be addressed by the correct gender, saying, “It’s too hard.”
Cooley, who was 22 at the time, says people in other departments made inappropriate comments about his chest — even in front of customers.
Cooley and Dehart went to local organization Trans*Ponder, which reached out to Market of Choice offering to run a training program with the grocery chain as well as to discuss employee practices and access to health care for transgender people.
“We assumed ignorance,” Oblio Stroyman of Trans*Ponder says.
Stroyman says Trans*Ponder works with mental health agencies and doctors’ offices as well as Lane County, the library and the city of Eugene.
In addition to the allegations of employee discrimination, Stroyman says Market of Choice uses a Providence health insurance plan that precludes care for transgender related health care issues unless that person was born intersex. On that, he says, nothing can be done because there are no protections on the issue for transgender people at the federal level.
Stroyman corresponded with Joe Henderson, human resources manger for Market of Choice, about the various allegations and the health insurance question.
Henderson wrote Stroyman that in regard to “gender dysphoria health coverage, we are already exploring those issues, and are comfortable that we have sufficient resources at our disposal to ensure that all viewpoints on the issue are represented (including those espoused by Transponder).”
Basic Rights Oregon also reached out to Market of Choice. Kieran Chase, manager of the Transgender Justice Program, tells Eugene Weekly, “We sent a letter to Market of Choice informing them that we’d heard of concerns from employees and former employees, and requesting dialogue to address the concerns. We never received a reply.”
Amy Delaney, manager of customer experience, responded to EW’s request for comment saying, “Market of Choice has not and does not discriminate against any of our employees, nor will we tolerate it among our teams; any concerns of discrimination are addressed immediately.”
Delaney says that while Trans*Ponder “did offer to do a training for us, we have been doing diversity training for many years and already have established relationships with other training organizations and trainers in the area.”
Market of Choice has established an Equity and Inclusion Team, which Delaney says was discussed along with other employee engagement groups in late 2018.
She says the goal of the team is “working together to help everyone we interact with, and ourselves, feel safe, respected and welcomed — that who we see and who we are is a human being.”
Asked whether any transgender people or people of color were on the team, Delaney responds that the team committee was recruited via posters in the store and, “The committee is open to all employees who wanted to join and everyone from all walks of life have been encouraged to participate if they had an interest in doing so.”
Cooley says he later moved to West Linn with family, and decided to transfer to a Market of Choice there, hoping the situation would be different at another location where no one had ever known him as anyone else.
It was not to be. Cooley was “mis-gendered from the start,” he says including a “full dirty up and down look” from another employee. Then the kitchen supervisor introduced him as “she.”
“When I got home that day, I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to do this all over again,’” Cooley says.
As luck would have it, Cooley walked into a McMenamins that same day and was hired on the spot as a line cook. Cooley called Market of Choice and explained he didn’t feel comfortable working there and decided to pursue other employment.
“I think there’s just this culture that’s been created at Market of Choice that’s just unaccepting. I don’t have the energy to change it,” he says.
Cooley says the HR person told him the situation was his fault, and he “should have warned us.”
He says the reason he went to work for Market of Choice was because “I thought it was a nice store, it seemed like a ‘heart of Eugene-type’ of store. I didn’t want to work for a big box company.”
Dehart says the name tag issue wasn’t the only discrimination she felt at Market of Choice — at one point she was outed when her previous name was posted publicly. She, too, has found employment elsewhere and says she has filed a civil rights complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
The complaint was not in the BOLI database as of press time but under previous Oregon law employees had one year from the date of the wrongful occurrence to file a claim for discrimination, harassment and retaliation in all forms. As of Oct. 1, employees will have five years.