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Transgender firings trigger EEOC lawsuits

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Obama administration is suing two businesses — a funeral home and an eye clinic — for firing employees who were “transitioning” from male to female.

Lawsuits filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allege that the companies violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex.

The EEOC alleges that R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., in Garden City, Mich., fired Amiee Stephens after she informed the company in 2013 she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female. Stephens, who had worked there as a funeral director and embalmer for six years, told her employer she would start to “present” in business attire consistent with her new gender, according to an EEOC news release, and was fired two weeks later because “what she was ‘proposing to do’ was unacceptable.”

Lakeland Eye Clinic, located 35 miles east of Tampa in Lakeland, Fla., hired Brandi Branson in July 2010 as director of hearing services, the Miami Herald reported. Branson initially went by Michael at the clinic and presented himself as male. But six months later, Branson began wearing makeup and women’s clothing. The EEOC suit claims that Branson experienced teasing at work and physicians stopped referring patients to her. The clinic fired Branson in June 2011, saying the position was being eliminated. But the clinic hired a replacement two months later, according to the Miami Herald.

No federal statutes prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression. But in recent years, the EEOC has pursued protections for transgendered workers under the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII prohibition against sex discrimination and harassment. In 2012, the agency issued its first ruling on the issue when a transgendered woman claimed she was denied federal employment because she informed the employer she was transitioning from male to female. The landmark ruling stated intentional discrimination based on gender identity or a change of sex is a form of sexual discrimination and thus prohibited under Title VII.

The EEOC’s strategic plan lists one of its six national priorities as “addressing emerging and developing issues,” including “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions.” The lawsuits, filed in late September, mark the EEOC’s first attempt to push private companies to get behind its new definition of sex discrimination.

The Office of Personnel Management, the federal agency that manages government employees, offers advice to businesses that employ people who are in transition from one gender to another. The agency notes a “healthy” gender transition requires an individual to “experience full-time living” in his or her “identified gender” for at least a year prior to gender reassignment surgery.

Once a person begins transition, supervisors should be “sensitive” and prohibit gossiping while applying company policy and protocol for the person’s new gender, such as using their new name with appropriate pronouns, adherence to the new gender’s dress code and access to bathroom and locker room facilities. “A reasonable temporary compromise may be appropriate in some circumstances” regarding restrooms, but the individual cannot be required to provide proof of any medical procedures.

Company human resource departments are directed to change all paperwork, including health insurance, to reflect the person’s new gender. In addition, employers are forbidden from dropping an employee’s legally married spouse from any insurance plan, as “the transition does not affect the validity of that marriage.”

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  • Staff/World News Service