by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
For a little over two and one-half years, 47-year-old Alicia Frenter has enjoyed her job as a machine operator at the Hostess Bakery in Seattle's Central District neighborhood. The feeling of accomplishment and teamwork she first felt as an employee of the Interstate Bakeries Corporation soon gave way to feelings of sadness and frustration when co-workers began making discriminatory statements regarding her gender identity. Frenter, an American Samoa immigrant living in Seattle since 1990, is a Transgender person who identifies as a woman.
"They call me names like 'he-she'," an upset Frenter told SGN as she described the verbal abuse she has suffered at the hands of some Hostess Bakery employees. "They say, 'That is not a woman, it's a man' and some of them even say I don't belong at the job."
Frenter says she has been Transgender all her life. As far back as she can remember - even as a child - she identified as a girl. Now, as an adult, Frenter says she dresses as a woman and goes about her daily life as such, but "I do not wear makeup or anything."
Frenter told SGN that the discriminatory slurs quickly worsened from simple one-word comments like "fag" to vulgarities like "she's got a dick, she don't got a pussy." In late October, Frenter reached her breaking point and reported the incidents to her immediate supervisors as well as the Human Resources Department. These actions, she says, should have yielded positive results, but in her words, "My supervisor just handled the problem at the moment. The harassment continued soon after I complained. Nothing had changed."
After additional complaints, she decided to make a formal discrimination complaint to the Interstate Bakeries Corporation. On October 30, a preliminary meeting was set up between Frenter, a human resources representative, and the plant manager.
"During the first meeting, I told them about the way I was being treated badly and that some of my co-workers were giving me a hard time," she recalled. "They said they would stop the problems."
The problems, according to Frenter, did not stop. In fact, she claims that when co-workers learned of her discrimination claim, they ostracized her and the lewd and negative comments continued.
MANAGEMENT TURNS BLIND EYE
Management scheduled a follow-up meeting. This time they invited Frenter's Local 9 (Bakers and Confectioners Workers Union) union representative to sit in on the meeting. The November 2 follow-up did not go the way Frenter had planned. She claims the company made her feel like she was being forced to agree with them that they had done everything right and that the problems had ceased. She said she was told that she was a distraction to other workers and felt the meeting consisted of her being accused of things, while her aggressors were protected.
"They asked me to open up to the managers and tell them who was messing with me," she told SGN. "I gave them the names of the people who hate me there, and I gave them the names of people who witnessed the incidents."
Days later, Frenter said she was shocked to learn that human resources and management had not gone to the witnesses she named. According to Frenter, each co-worker she asked systematically told her that they had not had any conversation with a human resources representative regarding her claim.
Once again, she thought, the company had let her down. A pattern was beginning to form, one that saw management quelling the situation for the time being, leaving her to suffer in the long run.
Frenter, who still works at the bakery, says she feels uncomfortable when she goes to work now. Sometimes Frenter feels threatened she said.
When SGN attempted to contact the Seattle Hostess Bakery, we were referred instead to their public relations firm, which sent a statement on behalf of Hostess Brands.
"Hostess Brands believes in treating individuals in our workplaces with dignity and respect and therefore takes issues such as these very seriously," read the statement. "In the last four weeks, we have taken nearly 100 percent of our workforce at the Seattle facility through training focusing on treating others with respect in the workplace. We will continue to work with all employees to continue to provide a fair workplace."
Frenter says the training that was given to employees was sexual harassment training, and had little to do with Transgender discrimination. Additionally, Frenter says, she was told the training was routine, though that was the first time she attended such training in over two years.
"I decided to make my story public because it is clear they do not take me seriously," Frenter said. "I feel manipulated and I know that I should not have to face discrimination because of the clothes I wear or the way I live my life."
Frenter told SGN that she wants the Hostess Bakery management to pay attention to help stop discrimination from happening at the plant. "I have felt humiliated from the comments made to me," she said. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else."
Phone calls by SGN requesting a statement from the Local 9 union representative went unanswered by press time.
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