EEOC Sues Financial Firm for Alleged Bias Against Transitioning Transgender Employee

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By Kevin McGowan

June 8 — A financial services firm violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by harassing a transgender employee who was transitioning to female in the workplace, including denying her use of the women's bathroom, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit filed June 4 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (EEOC v. Deluxe Fin. Servs. Corp., D. Minn., No. 15-2646, complaint filed 6/4/15).

The lawsuit against Deluxe Financial Services Corp., headquartered in Shoreview, Minn., marks the third time the EEOC has sued a private sector employer for sex discrimination under Title VII based on its treatment of a transgender employee.

The EEOC takes the position Title VII shields transgender individuals from bias based on failure to conform with gender stereotypes. In April, the EEOC and a Florida eye clinic settled for $150,000 the agency's lawsuit on behalf of a transgenderemployee allegedly fired because she was transitioning to female (33 HRR 408, 4/20/15).

The other EEOC lawsuit involving a transgender employee is pending against a Michigan funeral home (33 HRR 436, 4/27/15).

In the latest case, the EEOC seeks relief for Britney Austin, who worked in the Phoenix office of Deluxe Financial. Austin performed her job satisfactorily for years, but after she began to present as a woman at work and informed her supervisors she is transgender, Deluxe refused to let her use the women's restroom, the EEOC alleged.

Supervisors and co-workers also subjected Austin to harassment, including hurtful epithets and intentional use of the incorrect gender pronoun when addressing her, the agency said.

In a June 8 written statement sent to Bloomberg BNA, Deluxe said it “takes the safety, security and dignity of all our employees very seriously.”

“We are disappointed in the EEOC’s decision to pursue litigation in this matter and believe the agency’s claims lack merit,” the company said. “We will defend our policies and practices, all of which align with federal and state legal standards.”

Agency Enforcement Priority.

The EEOC has made coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, “as they may apply,” an enforcement priority under the agency's strategic enforcement plan (30 HRR 1377, 12/24/12).

The agency also has “made clear through its federal sector decisions that transgender individuals are protected under Title VII,” EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said in a June 5 statement.

In the most recent of those cases, the EEOC in Lusardi v. McHugh ruled that denying employees use of a restroom consistent with gender identity and subjecting them to intentional use of the wrong gender pronoun is unlawful discrimination based on sex.

In 2012, the EEOC in Macy v. Holder ruled discrimination against employees because they are transgender, because of gender identity and/or because they have transitioned or intend to transition from one gender to another is discrimination because of sex that violates Title VII (30 HRR 459, 4/30/12).