Tampa, Florida – Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Florida-based organization of health care professionals, 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, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. This is one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the agency alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals.
The other case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. was filed today by the EEOC’s Indianapolis District Office.
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, human resources 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-EEOC 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 today 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 based 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, including Glenn 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 today are consistent with the Commission’s position in Macy and binding court precedent.
“An employee should not be denied employment opportunities because he or she does not conform to the preferred or expected gender norms or roles of the employer or co-workers,” said Malcolm S. Medley, director for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “Protections must be afforded to such employees.”
Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office, pointed out that in 2011, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force completed a study that found, in Florida, 81 percent of transgender individuals responding to the survey experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job and 56 percent experienced an adverse job action.
Weisberg said, “With workplace discrimination against transgender individuals reported at these levels, EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender employees secured by Title VII.”
The EEOC also filed suit today against Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for discharging a funeral director because she informed them that, as part of her gender transition from male to female, she intended to return to work presenting consistent with her gender identity as a woman.
The EEOC charged in its suit, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., (Civ. No. E.D. Mich. 2:14-cv-13710-SFC-DRG) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, that Harris violated Title VII by firing the funeral director because of her transgender status, because of her gender transition, and/or based on gender-based stereotypes.