A major northern Minnesota furniture retailer is paying $60,000 to a transgender job applicant after a federal investigation concluded that the company refused to hire him as a sales associate out of concern that he would hurt business.
Frizzell Furniture Gallery, with stores in Bemidji and Walker, also has agreed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to provide training for its staff and revise company policies regarding discrimination based on sex and gender identity, the agency announced Tuesday.
"We appreciate that Frizzell Furniture worked cooperatively with the EEOC to resolve this charge without having to go through protracted litigation," Julianne Bowman, director of the EEOC's Chicago District, said in a statement. "By revising its hiring procedures and adopting new policies, Frizzell Furniture is taking important steps to promote equal employment opportunity for all job applicants."
An investigation by the EEOC's Minneapolis office concluded that Frizzell Furniture rejected the applicant for a sales position because he is transgender. A hiring official informed him he would not "mix well with the customers," the agency announcement read.
Dick Frizzell, who owns the 29-year-old company, said Wednesday that "obviously, no," he was not satisfied with how the case was resolved.
"We hire people that have the skills or the experience to do the jobs," Frizzell told the Star Tribune. "We have several classes of people ... Native Americans, openly gay people. We do not intend to discriminate against people."
Frizzell paused when asked whether he would reconsider hiring the transgender applicant who sought a job early last year at the Bemidji store, but he did say, "If a person such as them were applying for a position and had the qualifications, I would hire that person."
Frizzell said the company has insurance that covered the $60,000 payout, but there were additional expenses in connection with the case that his business absorbed.
The EEOC did not identify the hiring official or the job applicant. The EEOC's deputy director in Chicago, Diane Smason, explained that the case was resolved through a conciliation agreement, which is not allowed by law to be released to the public.
Frizzell said he was unsure who among his staff told the applicant that he would not "mix well with the customers," but pointed out that his son and general manager, Will Frizzell, was in charge of hiring decisions.
Will Frizzell declined to disclose who made the comment but told the Star Tribune that he did not say it.
The treatment of the job applicant spelled out by the EEOC in this case violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including bias based on transgender status. The act also does not allow discriminatory employment decisions based on customer preference.
The agreement with the EEOC also requires Frizzell Furniture to report any future complaints of discrimination to the agency for the next three years and adopt more objective hiring criteria.
Frizzell Furniture's website classifies the company as northern Minnesota's largest furniture retailer, with its original location in Walker measuring 25,000 square feet, and its store in Bemidji, which opened in 2019, totaling 42,000 square feet.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482