EEOC sues third company for bias against a transgender employee

By Cate Chapman on June 8, 2015

The EEOC has charged Deluxe Financial Services Corp., a Shoreview, Minn.-based check-printing and financial services corporation with violating federal law by allegedly subjecting a transgender employee to sex discrimination.

The lawsuit is the third to be filed in recent months 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, when the commission also filed suit against a Detroit-area funeral home. Both had fired employees who were transitioning from male to female, it said.

According to the EEOC’s suit against Deluxe, Britney Austin was also transitioning to female when she was prohibited from using the women’s restroom. She had performed her duties satisfactorily in the company’s Phoenix offices throughout a lengthy tenure there.

Supervisors and coworkers also subjected Austin to a hostile work environment, including hurtful epithets and intentionally using the wrong gender pronouns to refer to her, the EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC said, 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.

“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.

The EEOC filed suit Friday against Deluxe in US District Court for the District of Minnesota, where the headquarters of the company are located, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.

The lawsuit is part of the EEOC’s ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan, 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.

Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix District Office, said, “In 2011, a study by UCLA found that 78 percent 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.”

The commission issued a guide with three other agencies on LGBT Discrimination Protections for Federal Workers earlier this month. June has been designated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month by President Obama for the duration of his administration to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.