A Denver coffee shop vows to provide “trans sensitivity training” after a former transgender employee claims he was fired for speaking out about LGBT harassment on the job.
Kaladi Coffee Roasters denied any discrimination but issued a statement Tuesday affirming their commitment to respecting diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
“We have been longtime supporters to the LGBTQ community and remain an ally and friend to the cause of equality for all,” the Facebook post read. “We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment in our workplace and strive to create a welcoming atmosphere to everyone without exception.”
Leonard Pollard thinks the coffee shop’s claims of being an ally are disingenuous and stray from events that he said caused him to be fired. The former employee has taken to social media to share his story and asked others to spread the word and leave negative business reviews about the coffee shop he described as “transphobic.”
Pollard began working at the coffee shop in the summer of 2017. Around September when Pollard took time off to have trans-related surgery, he said a coworker began asking him inappropriate questions about whether he could have an erection.
“I was taken off guard,” Pollard said. “I gave a short response to her, and that was it.”
Pollard returned from surgery in October, and the inappropriate questions continued in December, he said.
In front of other colleagues and customers, the coworker allegedly asked Pollard if he could ejaculate.
“I told her that was really inappropriate, and I got visibly flustered and uncomfortable,” Pollard said. “She said if you don’t want these kinds of questions, you shouldn’t be open about being trans.”
Pollard said he gave her a brief response and left as soon as he could. When Pollard confronted other colleagues who overheard the exchange, he said they told him that was just part of the prying coworker’s personality.
A few days later, Pollard said he had a panic attack on the job and got approval from a colleague to leave about 25 minutes early. Because it’s a worker-run company, Pollard said the employees are told to treat each other like managers, so he thought his approval from a coworker was satisfactory.
“I had never left early or taken a sick day or anything,” Pollard said. “This was very much my first and only incident like this.”
When Pollard was working a few days later, he said one of Kaladi’s owners came in and said he’d heard Pollard left halfway through his shift.
“I said it was only about 25 minutes early, and that I was given the OK,” Pollard said. “I said it was a medical thing I was being treated for and that it wouldn’t happen again, and I was told it wouldn’t happen again because I was being let go.”
Because people frequently leave work a few minutes early, he hadn’t had previous offenses and the timing of the situation seemed connected to his harassment complaints, Pollard said it was clear he was fired because of his gender identity.
Pollard, inspired in part by this month’s Pride celebrations recognizing and support LGBTQ individuals, is speaking out now because he feels a little more stable and has processed the harassment, he said.
Co-owner of Kaladi Coffee Roasters Mark Overly said he never knew there were harassment claims in the first place.
“We had to let Leonard go because of a job-related reason of walking out on the job,” Overly said. “It’s never easy to let a person go, but sometimes things don’t work out.”
Overly said he’s been blindsided by Pollard’s claims that have come out months after the termination.
“There are a number of negative reviews about us,” Overly said. “We’re not a very social media savvy company, but we’ve had these reviews across platforms, so that’s what alerted us to this. They’re claiming we’re a transphobic, bigoted company. We’ve been a longtime inclusive employer, and it’s hard for me to make sense of this.”
Going forward, Overly said the coffee shop plans to work with a LGBTQ organization for staff training on transgender sensitivity. The business also started a Facebook fundraiser for LGBTQ nonprofit One Colorado Education Fund.
“We are very saddened and disappointed about the situation,” Overly said. “Our heart goes out to Leonard. We never wished him any harm or ill will, and we’ve always considered ourselves an ally to the gender non-conforming community.”
Leonard says actions speak louder than words.
The former Kaladi employee is glad the coffee shop is pursuing sensitivity training but said it won’t change the owners’ “fundamental disregard for workers’ rights.”
Pollard, who is now employed at a Denver restaurant, said he’s considering taking his claims to court.
“I spoke out because I didn’t want to see somebody do something so discriminatory and have absolutely no consequences,” Pollard said.