Dylan Paul
  • Used with permission
  • Dylan Paul
Local pizza chain Pagliacci has apologized for firing an employee at its Broadway restaurant on Capitol Hill last week after she complained about a customer who she says deliberately misgendered and harassed her.

Twenty-four-year-old Dylan Paul, a student at South Seattle Community College who hails from Olympia, had been working at the Pagliacci restaurant for more than a year. Last Monday, she says, she was working the salad station and said goodbye to a regular customer. The customer responded in kind, but called her "man" and misgendered her in the process.

Paul is used to this, she tells me, and she understands when someone makes an honest mistake for the first time. "I totally get that," she says. But when the customer laughed at her after she told him, "It's ma'am, actually," she was too shocked to respond, and he left.

On Friday, the man showed up again. Here's how Paul describes their interaction in an entry posted to a friend's Tumblr page:

Just about midway through my shift working the til at Pag’s he showed up again, waiting at the slice bar for service. I stepped over to him and said, “The last time you were in here I corrected you on my gender and you laughed at me. That was really rude, and I’d like you to apologize.”

He replied, “I don’t really care what’s happening in your life, man, I just need my pizza.”

I responded, “I just need to be respected in my place of work, and I reserve the right to refuse service to you.”

Paul later told her managers about the disrespectful customer. She expected an apology from him, or for the restaurant to deny him service—especially since, she explains, she'd felt supported by the restaurant before. Paul says managers told her she should go to the back of the restaurant if the customer came in again, and someone else would serve him.

She decided to turn in her two weeks notice, but by the time she went up the stairs to inform her two managers, one of them "was there with my discharge papers." Another manager, she says, "told me, 'You were saying Pagliacci doesn't care, and I can't have you doing that. This is your last day here.' That's when it hit home for the first time that Pagliacci really didn't care, and I said as much to [one of the managers], signed my papers, changed, bid farewell to my coworkers, and stepped outside into unemployment."

Matt Galvin, the owner of Pagliacci's pizza, has since apologized to Paul in a response on Tumblr. He also tells me he's tried to reach her by phone. "I want to apologize to Dylan myself," Galvin says. "It would have been great had our managers said, 'I'm sure this is a traumatic experience…how can we support you?'" He says the managers could face sanctions after an internal investigation. He also feels personally responsible for not putting in place more thorough anti-harassment instruction for managers and employees. There's currently a mandatory training, but "it [transgender harassment] is not explored thoroughly enough," he says.

Galvin tells me he has no reason to doubt Paul's account of what happened. "I would have kicked the customer out myself," he says—if he'd been there. "If a customer is spiteful and harassing an employee, and deliberately misgendering an employee, then yeah. I’m sorry. You can't come to Pagliacci."

The Broadway restaurant will close next Tuesday evening, he says, for a former employee who conducts "Trans 101" sessions to offer a training to employees.

Paul says she's not interested in going back and is considering filing a complaint with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights. She's looking at this not as a way to focus on what happened to her, but to draw attention to "what this says about how trans people should expect to be treated where they work," she says. "My desire in looking at legal action is to say that this isn’t something that should be compromised on. People should know that we have the right to a safe workplace."

In the meantime, she's looking into working at Starbucks, where a friend, who is transgender, says the anti-discrimination policies and culture are stronger.

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"I’ve been watching some of the responses to the Tumblr campaign that my friend started," Paul tells me. "The negative feedback I’ve gotten from that has either been, trans people are not owed having their gender respected. Or, you’re working in the service industry, and no one in the service industry should expect that customers should be barred for discrimination. I disagree with that," she says. "Purposely misgendering is harassment."

"In any customer-facing jobs, you’re going to get this blunt reaction from the public," says Danielle Askini, Executive Director of the Gender Justice League. "For employers, they need to have a plan in place to respond to customers who harass or discriminate or react violently to their transgender employees." She says there's often a disconnect between the top and middle management of a company on these issues.

Pagliacci has a reputation for being a relatively supportive workplace for LGBTQ employees, Askini says, but "terminating an employee for experiencing harassment is never a good solution... I'm heartened by the response of the owner. It sounds like he wants to take proactive steps."