Lawsuit Challenges Discrimination Under 1964 Civil Rights Act
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Deluxe Financial Services Corp., a Shoreview, Minn.-based check-printing and financial services corporation, violated federal law by subjecting a transgender employee to sex discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
This is the third lawsuit filed recently by the EEOC alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity/transitioning/transgender status. In April, 2015, a Florida eye clinic paid $150,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit filed in September 2014, seeking relief for an employee who had been transitioning to female http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/4-13-15.cfm; also in September 2014, the EEOC filed suit seeking relief for an employee of a Detroit area funeral home fired for transitioning from male to female. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-25-14d.cfm
According to the EEOC's suit against Deluxe Financial Services, Britney Austin had performed her duties satisfactorily in the company's Phoenix offices throughout a lengthy tenure there. However, after she began to present at work as a woman and informed her supervisors that she was transgender, Deluxe refused to let her use the women's restroom. Supervisors and coworkers subjected Austin to a hostile work environment, including hurtful epithets and intentionally using the wrong gender pronouns to refer to her.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on transgender status and gender stereotyping. This includes subjecting an employee to different terms and conditions and a hostile work environment because of sex.
The EEOC filed suit against Deluxe Financial in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, where the headquarters of the company are located (Case No. 15-cv-02646 D. Minn.), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.
The lawsuit announced today is part of the EEOC's ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which it adopted in December 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. The suit is also consistent with federal case law and follows two significant decisions of the EEOC issued in its adjudicatory capacity in federal sector employment disputes. In federal sector enforcement, the same laws apply but the EEOC has appellate adjudicatory authority.
"The Commission has made clear through its federal sector decisions that transgender individuals are protected under Title VII," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez.
Lusardi v. McHugh, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133395 (April 1, 2015), is the latest such decision. The Commission ruled that denying employees use of a restroom consistent with their gender identity and subjecting them to intentional use of the wrong gender pronouns constitutes discrimination because of sex, and thus violates Title VII.
The Commission's 2012 opinion in Macy v. Dep't of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (April 20, 2012), 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 is because of sex and/ or based on their failure to conform to gender stereotypes, which is sex discrimination that violates Title VII. The lawsuit filed today is consistent with the Commission's position in Macy, Lusardi and court precedent.
"A long-term, well-respected employee should not be rewarded for her years of dedicated service by being forced to face the indignity and danger of using a restroom inconsistent with her gender identity, simply because a company's management subscribes to sex stereotypes and believes coworkers may feel uncomfortable," said Rayford O. Irvin, district director for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. "Employee and customer preferences based on stereotypes are not a legitimate reason to discriminate."
Mary Jo O'Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix District Office, said, "In 2011, a study by UCLA found that 78% of transgender employees nationwide reported harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity. These are very high numbers. With workplace discrimination against transgender workers at such alarming levels, the EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender employees and applicants."
On June 3, 2015, the EEOC issued a guide with three other agencies on LGBT Discrimination Protections for Federal Workers.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information can be found at www.eeoc.gov.