Isabel Perez, who had been employed in HR for 15 years at the time she accepted a position as HR Director for Ashley Furniture Home Store, is married to a woman and claims that her manger fired her based on her sexual orientation stating that God told her to after she noticed a sticker in support of gay rights on Perez’s vehicle.
Surprisingly, in many states, it is legal to fire someone for being gay. However, in Perez’s favor, New Jersey is not one of them and she has decided to file suit.
Perez, who began working for Ashley in 2011, states that even in her first interviews she suspected that her sexual orientation could pose an issue. During the interview process, she apparently was questioned about the ring on her finger and inquiries were made about her view of hiring gays and African Americans.
At the time, Perez openly voiced her beliefs regarding equal employment but dodged questions regarding her marriage. While she admits, “It was uncomfortable,” she says. “As a human resources person, you think, ‘I’ll be able to change the culture…this is a point I could bring up later and discuss.’”
Perez was not successful in changing the culture and attitudes within the company and in her extremely short tenure was given gender and race specifications for job openings. She claims to have been directed by executives to hire only women or white people for certain jobs and to avoid hiring gays or lesbians.
Immediately objecting to the stipulations, she was told that maybe she didn’t fit in. In what may have been the final straw, Perez was warned, “you won’t last here,” by an employee processing her human resources paperwork which indicated that she had a female partner.
Not long after that, the chain’s director of People Services and Development, Kathy Martin, spotted a Human Rights Campaign sticker on Perez’s car, and questioned Perez about it. During the conversation, Martin stated that she needed to speak to God about the matter.
The following day, just two weeks into her employment, Perez was fired and told by Martin in a meeting between the two and a sales manager that God had spoken to Martin and that while the termination was not performance related and that Martin believed Perez could “easily manage the entire department,” she just didn’t “fit the culture” and that her “beliefs just don’t fit.”
“I had just given up everything to join an organization, thinking I could change the culture,” says Perez, who believes that she was retaliated against for standing up to discriminatory comments and standing up for her own sexual orientation.
Perez has acquired a new sense of purpose through her ordeal. In addition to filing suit in New Jersey, where it is illegal for private employers to terminate an employee solely on their sexual orientation regardless of the employer’s beliefs, she plans to bring awareness to the fact that there are no federal laws protecting gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. She adds, “I have to make a difference within the human resources community.”