Meagan Hunter had been working at a Phoenix Chili’s Grill & Bar for two years when she finally got news that she had the opportunity to move up.
The single mother was finally getting a promotion after dedicating so much of her time and energy to job. She even attended a training seminar which improved her chances of getting the new position.
“It was a great opportunity, and I was excited about the prospect of a promotion,” Hunter wrote in a blog post for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.
The 35-year-old had started making plans for the future, which included buying a home “for the first time.” Unfortunately, her happiness was short-lived.
Hunter, who identifies as a lesbian, was informed by her manager that her promotion would only be possible under one condition: she needed to “dress more gender appropriate.”
“I asked him, ‘Are you telling me that I need to have my breasts hanging out to be successful in your company?’ He answered, ‘Not in those words,’” Hunter wrote. “I asked him why I could not wear a chef-style coat like the one he was wearing and he replied, ‘It’s for boys.'”
Unbeknownst to Hunter at the time, this wasn’t the first time that her appearance had cost her a position. After the recent controversy, she was told by some co-workers that the same manager skipped her for a promotion to bartender because he “didn’t want a gay girl behind the bar.”
Despite having bills to pay and a son to support, Hunter decided to quit her job because she “couldn’t continue to work at a place where my willingness to conform to a stereotype was more important than my job performance.”
She filed a complaint with Chili’s corporate offices but they only made the situation worse by accusing her of lying and failing to apologize.
“They said I must be lying because the manager’s best friend is gay,” she explained. “Having a gay friend doesn’t excuse what happened to me.”
After the shocking response from the restaurant, Hunter filed a sex discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the EEOC sides with her, she would be able to file a federal lawsuit against the company.
Chili’s continues to deny that Hunter’s appearance cost her the promotion, according to a statement from a company spokesperson.
“We do not tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our restaurants. That’s why we were alarmed by these allegations and why we knew we had to set the record straight on behalf of all of our ChiliHeads.
Meagan Hunter was not denied a promotion at Chili’s, but instead she was identified as a high potential Team Member and offered the opportunity to be promoted into our Certified Shift Leader program to take the next step on her career journey,” the spokesperson said. “Feedback was given to her about our manager dress code guidelines, which apply to all managers regardless of gender identification or sexuality, but absolutely no mention was made of any need to conform to gender-specific clothing.”
For now, Hunter may have to wait months, or maybe even years, to hear back from the EEOC, but in the meantime she has found work at a local restaurant.
“I am now working my way back up the ladder,” Hunter, who is now making less money, wrote in her blog. “Who knows how long it will be before I am considered for a management position again.”
She’s sharing her story with the public so that anyone going through something similar won’t be afraid to stand up for themselves. She also wants to hold the management at Chili’s accountable, and let the world know that “women do not need to be stereotypically feminine in order to get a promotion or be an effective employee or manager.”
Hunter’s story comes on the heels of a Mississippi news anchor opening up about getting fired for having what her higher-uppers considered “unprofessional” hair.
Brittany Noble revealed that she has faced discrimination on several different occasions while working at WJTV, and has filed more than one complaint with the EEOC.