U.S. government lawsuits target transgender discrimination in workplace

Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:27pm EDT
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By Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A funeral home and an eye clinic that fired employees who had changed their sex from male to female were sued last week as the U.S. government filed its first-ever federal lawsuits for transgender discrimination.

The cases could lay the groundwork for more such actions in the future, legal experts said on Monday.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought one lawsuit in Florida and another in Michigan on Thursday on behalf of two transgender employees.

"This will be a wakeup call to employers that they should take another look at their practices," Robert Weisberg, an EEOC attorney who helped bring the case in Miami, said in an interview. "Victims of transgender discrimination will become more aware there is a legal recourse."

The EEOC enforces federal laws against employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and nationality under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In one case, funeral home director Amiee Stephens was fired after she told her employer in Michigan she was undergoing a gender transition, the government alleged. The R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home named in the complaint did not immediately return requests for comment.

In the other case, Brandi Branson - hired as Michael at the Lakeland Eye Clinic in Florida - claims she was ostracized after her transition and later told her position was eliminated. The complaint alleges that the company then hired a replacement.

"Lakeland Eye Clinic has not and will not discriminate against any employee because of gender transition, or any other basis," the Clinic said in a statement.   Continued...