Transgender woman files discrimination lawsuit against Starwood Resorts

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A transgender woman who legally changed her gender identity is heading to trial after filing an equal opportunity complaint.

Gina Versace said she was hired by Starwood Resorts in 1998 as a banquet server when she was labeled as a man, but she changed gender identity in 2005 and started receiving backlash.

Versace said she would have been able to keep her transition private if it weren’t for hurtful comments made by managers in front of hotel guests and other employees.

Versace said the banquet industry is fluid, and no one would have noticed her identity change, but managers still referred to her as “he” and forbade her from using the women’s restroom. 

The lawsuit against Starwood Resorts was filed a year ago in federal court after she said she was improperly fired. 

Versace said it’s time to speak out to help others and force Starwood to change its ways. 

After she asked human resources employees to change her name, Versace said many of her managers at the popular Disney resort Swan and Dolphin Resorts, including HR reps, started to treat her differently. She said her hours were limited and she was punished unfairly for taking breaks.

“New hires were given more work opportunities over me though I had 10 more years of experience than they did at the Swan and Dolphin,” Versace said. 

She said basic necessities like being able to use the bathroom became discriminatory. 

“Even the assistant director herself of HR directed me to a non-accessible individual bathroom across the hall, behind a locked door and through a storage room,” Versace said. 

Versace said part of the reason she wants to speak out is because of the recent national exposure of Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. She said she wants to help others who might not have the same resources and might not know the laws that protect them from discrimination.

“Starwood should be exposed for horrific and illegal treatment,” Versace said. “People need to be aware and no on should have to be treated the same way that I was.”

Starwood Resorts issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying it is proud of its long public commitment to the LGBT community and that it strives to be the industry benchmark for diversity and inclusion.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that Versace had a right to sue Starwood Resorts after first throwing out her claim of wrongful termination.  Channel 9 was sent rulings by the Florida Commission on Human Relations and OSHA ruling against Versace’s claims and in favor of Starwood Resorts.