2015 will almost certainly be remembered as a watershed year for the transgendered. While Caitlyn Jenner has been the dominant story, transgender individuals have gained increasing acceptance and recognition in society at large.
2015 may also be remembered as the year that the federal government began taking significant steps to protect transgender individuals in the workplace. As we have reported, the government recently released guidelines for employer restroom policies regarding transgender workers. Additionally, a recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held discrimination against transgender employees to be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position the agency recently reaffirmed.
Therefore, it should probably come as no surprise that the EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against a company in Minnesota for allegedly discriminating against a transgendered employee. The lawsuit alleged that the employer discriminated against the transgendered employee by refusing to call her by her female name and refusing to let her use the female bathroom. According to the lawsuit, when the employee was first hired, she presented herself as a male, using a male name. However, after a few years, she announced that she would be transitioning to a female. She then changed her name and began taking female hormones.
The employer, however, continued to refer to her by her male name, failing to change her name in many of its records, which caused her colleagues and clients to continue to refer to her by her male name. Even after the employee complained to her supervisors, they continued to refer to her by her male name.
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the employee was forced to use the male bathroom after her transition, even though she asked to use the female bathroom. The EEOC alleges that all of these actions constituted illegal discrimination. We will provide updates on this case as it progresses.
This is yet another reminder that employers need to realize that improperly handling issue related to transgender employees could get them into trouble quickly. Outdated policies could find an employer facing a lawsuit, along with negative publicity. Moreover, many states, including Illinois, make discrimination against a transgendered person illegal. Now, it looks like the federal government will aggressively pursue transgender discrimination, at least through the end of the Obama Administration. We suggest that employers review their policies for dealing with transgendered employees to ensure that they do not violate state, federal, or even local law. Contact an attorney for help doing this.