Thursday, July 21, 2016

EEOC Sues After Company Discharges Transgender Employee

Earlier this week, the EEOC reported that it has charged Rent-A-Center with federal civil rights violations, after the company allegedly discharged an employee because she is transgender.  Rent-A-Center, an international company with over 4,285 stores, which leases furniture, electronics, appliances and computers, employed Julianne Bowman at its Rantoul, Illinois store.  According to Julianne, the company’s supervisors disapproved of her gender transition and thereby found justification to fire her.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace and the EEOC has ruled that discriminating against employees or applicants based on their transgender status, gender identity and/or because that person has or intends to make a transition, falls within the purview of Title VII.  

EEOC’s statement claims that it filed suit after the agency was unable to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.   John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago, stated "All people deserve the opportunity to earn a living and be judged on the quality of their work, rather than on sex-based considerations." 

Similar lawsuits will likely follow since the EEOC has identified coverage of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals as sex discrimination under Title VII as one of its priority issues.  EEOC reminds us, “[g]ender identity means a person's inner sense of his or her own gender, which may or may not match the sex the person was assigned at birth.”

Ancel Glink will continue to encourage employers to ensure that its policies, training procedures and overall attitude are in compliance with this law.  These policies and training procedures should make it evident that the employer will not tolerate sex discrimination in the workplace, and what qualifies as sex discrimination.  Employer’s policies should include a transgender and gender identity policy, which addresses the transition process, amongst other things.