A company policy has reportedly created a stink at Walmart in Stephenville.
The issue centers on the restroom rights of one employee, a pre-op transexual who despite having male genitalia, identifies herself as a woman.
Walmart's anti-discrimination policy allows the employee to use the women's restroom.
The controversy began with the employee's request to be called "Michelle." The name change was honored by the local store manager years ago, but some of her co-workers refused to call her by that name.
"I got really tired of people calling me 'sir,'" she said. "My name tag has said 'Michelle' for more than two years."
The issue was most frustrating when dealing with another member of the local management team, who despite repeated requests, continued to refer to Michelle by her legal, masculine name.
Frustrated, Michelle contacted the human resources manager in Abilene and was shocked to learn that company policy would do more than just stand behind her preferred name.
"I was told it's Walmart policy to include transgendered people," Michelle said. "I learned I have the privilege of using the ladies room and members of management should address me as Michelle."
"(The next day), on July 2, I walked into the ladies' associate restroom without incident," Michelle said.
Following a couple of days off, she returned to work, where the climate had seemingly changed.
"At the end of my shift, I was asked by two female employees if I was using the ladies' restroom. I told them I was and I had permission," she said.
Michelle said she left the store but was called back less than two hours later and was told that her newly-acquired restroom privileges had created a "horrible fallout."
"People were complaining, employees and customers," Michelle said. "There were phone calls and an employee petition was circulating."
But Michelle says the customer complaints are unfounded.
"I haven't been in the public restrooms in two-and-a-half years. I stopped using them when I was allowed to change my name tag," Michelle said. "Until recently, I had been using the men's associate restroom inside of the break room - even when I was in the store as a customer, shopping in a dress and stockings and carrying a purse."
Michelle said the internal conflict led her to relinquish her rights.
"It's not worth hurting the store by going into the ladies' room," she said.
Despite the scuttlebutt, Walmart is standing behind Michelle.
Since Sam Walton opened the first Walmart in 1962, the culture in the retail chain has rested on three basic beliefs. At the top of the list is "respect for the individual," according to walmartstores.com.
"Our policies are in place to prevent discrimination or harassment," Ashley Hardie, spokesperson for Walmart said Tuesday. "We believe associates should use the restroom facility that corresponds with their own gender identity or expression."
Hardie said it's store policy to recognize and respect all associates and customers and their varying viewpoints.
"We understand people may have strong opinions and balancing their viewpoints isn't easy," she said. "But respect for the individual is our priority."
The Empire-Tribune was first alerted to the controversy by a concerned customer, Rhoda Taylor, a 62-year-old mother and grandmother who travels to the local Walmart to shop. Taylor, who has friends employed at the local retailer, said she is shopping elsewhere for the time being.
"I have trusted Walmart with my daughter and grandkids," Taylor said. "I no longer have that trust, they are allowing someone with the opposite gender to be in the same bathroom as children. How do you explain that to a child? They should post a warning outside of the women's restrooms letting customers know men are allowed to use them or create a unisex restroom. They have betrayed public trust."