Does customer backlash justify discrimination?

Recently, several companies embracing Pride Month, the annual celebration for LGBTQ+, adjusted their marketing plans in response to opposition from customers. 

Target removed certain items from its Pride clothing displays and moved others from the front of some of its stores to the back after customers threatened employees. The company cited employee safety as the reason. 

Bud Light is struggling with the fallout from its social media campaign featuring the transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney. Sales have dropped more than 23 percent from last year. The company is now tripling its U.S. marketing spend. 

What does this have to do with employment discrimination? 

Although the issues here revolve around the companies’ marketing strategies, there are correlations between workplace discrimination and employee safety. 

Let’s talk about employee safety first.

Employers are required to keep their employees safe in the workplace and address any threats or potential threats. 

Target chose to address customer threats in some of its stores by removing certain items or relocating its Pride clothing displays.  The company also could have hired additional security personnel. 

Can an employer remove or relocate a particular employee because a customer prefers not to work with them due to their gender identity?

Absolutely not, unless the employee also prefers not to work with that customer, and the change doesn’t affect any other terms of the worker’s employment, such as their salary or responsibilities. 

Even if a customer prefers not to work with a transgender employee, it is illegal to fire or change that employee’s working conditions because of the customer’s preference.  In fact, it is illegal to discriminate against any employee – even due to customer preference – based on such protected characteristics as: 

  • Gender 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Gender identity 
  • Race 
  • Ethnicity 
  • National origin 
  • Religion 
  • Disability 

Please keep in mind that this is general information, not legal advice.  And the law may change at any time. 

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