EEOC Files First Lawsuits By the Agency for Alleged Sex Discrimination Against Transgender Individuals

 
Monday, October 6, 2014
 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the first two lawsuits by the agency alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals. 

In one case, Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing a Garden City, Mich., funeral director/embalmer because she is transgender, because she was transitioning from male to female, and/or because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit. 

Harris is a funeral home operator with locations in Detroit, Livonia and Garden City. Amiee Stephens had been employed by Harris as a Funeral Director/Embalmer since October 2007 and had always adequately performed the duties of that position.  In 2013, she gave Harris a letter explaining she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female, and would soon start to present (e.g., dress) in appropriate business attire at work, consistent with her gender identity as a woman.  Two weeks later, Harris's owner fired Stephens, telling her that what she was "proposing to do" was unacceptable. 

Such alleged behavior violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on gender stereotyping.. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (Case No. 2:14-cv-13710) after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.  

The second lawsuit is against the Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Fla.-based organization of health care professionals.  The Clinic discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing an employee because she is transgender, because she was transitioning from male to female, and/or because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes.  

According to the EEOC's lawsuit against Lakeland Eye Clinic, the defendant's employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment.  However, after she began to present as a woman and informed the clinic she was transgender, Lakeland fired her.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on gender stereotyping.  The EEOC filed suit against Lakeland Eye Clinic in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division (Case No. 8:14-cv-2421-T35 AEP) after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.

The lawsuits announced are part of the EEOC's ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).  The Commission adopted this SEP in December of 2012.  The SEP includes "coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply" as a top Commission enforcement priority.

In 2012, in Macy v. Dep't of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (April 20, 2012), the Commission ruled that employment discrimination against employees because they are transgender, because of their gender identity, and/or because they have transitioned (or intend to transition) is discrimination because on sex, and thus violates Title VII. This appeal arose from federal sector enforcement, where the same laws apply, but the EEOC has appellate adjudicatory authority.

In Macy, the Commission relied on reasoning from well-established Supreme Court precedent, as well as on holdings from more recent lower court decisions, includingGlenn v. Brumby, 663 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2011), and Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566 (6th Cir. 2004).  The Commission and these courts recognize that when an employer considers an employee's sex in taking an adverse action - for example, if an employer fires a transgender employee because the employee does not conform to the employer's expectations or stereotypes regarding how someone "born" that sex should live or look - the employer will violate Title VII. The lawsuits filed by the EEOC are consistent with the Commission's position in Macy and binding court precedent.

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