The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has brought two lawsuits on behalf of transgender workers. They mark the first time the federal government has sued to protect transgender rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Complaints against two companies were filed Thursday in federal courts in Florida and Michigan. The EEOC in both cases is asking for restitution for the fired transgender employees and for punitive damages for any future discrimination against employees.
One of the complaints alleges that Detriot-based company R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. discriminated against Amiee Stephens, a funeral director and embalmer, because she is transgender. According to the EEOC, “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. ”
In a second complaint, the EEOC alleges Florida-based Lakeland Eye Clinic violated Title VII by firing Brandi Branson for being transgender. The second case sounds similar to the first. The EEOC states that “after [Branson] began to present as a woman and informed the clinic she was transgender, Lakeland fired her.”
These two complaints mark the first time the EEOC has used Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to challenge gender-identity discrimination. The EEOC in December of 2012 adopted a plan that includes covering LGBT rights under Title VII’s sex-discrimination provisions.
In July, President Obama signed an executive order protecting federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At the signing ceremony, President Obama remarked, “It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that’s wrong. We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.”
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 9/26/2014; US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 9/25/2014; Human Rights Campaign 9/25/2014; The White House 7/21/14