Shake Shack Worker in Oakland Gets $20K in Gender Discrimination Case

Workplace discrimination is not just limited to small offices or one-off incidents. Large companies and even multinational corporations can be hotbeds of discriminatory treatment against employees. One of the most common types of employment discrimination is gender discrimination.

Shake Shack is known for its tasty burgers and milkshakes and has multiple locations across the Bay Area. Earlier this year, the multinational fast-food restaurant chain was at the heart of a gender discrimination complaint brought by a former employee in Oakland. The unnamed worker also alleged harassment and retaliation.

The California Civil Rights Department (CRD), which was formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, resolved the case with a $20,000 settlement awarded to the worker. Additionally, Shake Shack agreed to change its workplace policies regarding discrimination and harassment.

The worker filed a complaint against Shake Shack alleging discrimination and harassment based on his gender expression and gender identity. He worked at a Shake Shack location in Oakland after undergoing training in San Francisco.

He claimed that coworkers repeatedly misgendered him. In response to his complaints, Shake Shack management told him to “explain his gender” to coworkers rather than taking steps to address the alleged discrimination themselves.

Because Shake Shack failed to handle the discriminatory conduct adequately, the worker ended up quitting after just one month of employment. CRD Director Kevin Kish described misgendering and gender discrimination as “stressful and traumatic.”

According to the CRD, Shake Shack and the worker engaged in voluntary mediation to resolve the matter. The Dispute Resolution Division offers a free and confidential mediation process overseen by a neutral third party to address discrimination complaints. Shake Shack agreed to a $20,000 settlement through the process.

Under the settlement terms, Shake Shack agreed to revise its workplace policies related to discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and bullying. The company will also offer additional training about gender identity discrimination to supervisors and employees. It was also ordered to report all complaints related to gender discrimination or harassment to the CRD for one year.

State law bars workplaces from engaging in intentional misgendering. All employees have the right to work in a discrimination-free workplace. Although gender discrimination is unlawful, the unfortunate reality is that workers in Oakland and across the Bay Area are still subjected to it.

A June 2022 survey by the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center and One Fair Wage found that LGBTQ restaurant employees experience discrimination and sexual harassment at higher rates than non-LGBTQ workers. A quarter of LGBTQ workers said they have faced discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Around 50 percent of LGBTQ restaurant workers claimed discrimination had a negative effect on their work environment. Additionally, a whopping 81 percent of employees reported witnessing or experiencing homophobic or transphobic behavior from coworkers, supervisors, or customers.

California law classifies gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation as protected personal characteristics alongside other characteristics such as age, national origin, and race. Discrimination based on both actual and perceived gender identity is unlawful. This means that workers are protected from discrimination even if an employer is mistaken about their identity.

Treating employees disparately based on their gender is illegal. Employers are prohibited from basing any employment decisions on gender stereotypes. The law applies to all areas of employment, from hiring and training to pay and job duties. When a worker is subjected to adverse employment actions based on their gender, the employer may be engaging in gender discrimination. 

Although one-off comments or sporadic teasing are not unlawful on their own, such conduct can be characterized as gender discrimination if it rises to the level of a hostile work environment. There are many ways gender discrimination can occur in the workplace. Some examples include unequal treatment, forcing a worker to quit, wrongful termination, denying promotions, or harassment.

If you have suffered gender discrimination or other forms of unlawful treatment in the workplace, contact Erlich Law Firm right away. We can help you determine whether you have grounds for a gender discrimination claim against your employer.

While Erlich Law Firm was not involved with this case, employment attorney Jason Erlich is dedicated to helping workers fight discrimination at work. Call us today for a free consultation with an experienced Oakland employment lawyer.

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