The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has now sued a Minnesota-based check printing company, alleging that the company illegally discriminated against a transgender employee by not letting her use the women’s restroom. The EEOC has also alleged that the company subjected the woman to a hostile workplace by allowing fellow employees to address the woman as a man.
Employee Britney Austin was not allowed to use the women’s restroom once she began to present herself as a woman. She had informed her supervisors that she was transgender. She had performed her duties satisfactorily, but once she began to present herself as a woman, her duties became difficult because she had to deal with coworkers making hurtful epithets. The coworkers also were found to have intentionally used the wrong gender pronouns when referring to her.
When filing the EEOC complaint against the check printing company, the EEOC issued a statement warning employers of the dangers of sex stereotypes. Employee and customer preferences based on stereotypes are not legitimate reasons to discriminate. Additionally, the EEOC made note that this employee was a long-term, well-respected employee and therefore should not be rewarded for years of dedicated service by being forced to face the indignity and danger of using a restroom inconsistent with gender identity.
The lawsuit, filed June 4, 2015, follows two other recently filed lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status. In one of the prior lawsuits, an eye clinic was found to have illegally fired an employee who began to wear feminine clothing to work and informed the clinic that she was transitioning from male to female. After suit was filed, the clinic agreed to a settlement of $150,000.
All of these actions come roughly two and a half years after the EEOC found, in a landmark decision, that discrimination against transgender individuals constitutes sex discrimination (Mia Macy v. Eric Holder, Dept. of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821). This should serve as a reminder to employers to make sure staff is trained to ensure equal treatment of all employees to avoid discrimination and/or harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
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