EEOC sues Florida eye clinic for sex discrimination against transgender worker

The Wisconsin Gazette

Authorities say the Lakeland Eye Clinic in Lakeland, Florida, discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing an employee because she is transgender, because she was transitioning and because she did not conform to the employer’s gender-based expectations, preferences or stereotypes.

The charges are made in a lawsuit filed on Sept. 25 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint is one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the agency alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals. The other case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. also was filed on Sept. 25.  

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit against Lakeland Eye Clinic, the defendant’s employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. However, after she came out as a transgender individual and began to present as a woman, Lakeland fired her.

Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on gender stereotyping. The EEOC filed suit against Lakeland Eye Clinic in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa after first trying 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. The commission adopted the plan in December 2012. The plan 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.

Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office, pointed out that in 2011, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force completed a study that found, in Florida, 81 percent of transgender individuals responding to the survey experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job and 56 percent experienced an adverse job action. 

Weisberg said, “With workplace discrimination against transgender individuals reported at these levels, EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender employees secured by Title VII.”

The second suit was filed against Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. for discharging a funeral director because she informed them that, as part of her gender transition from male to female, she intended to return to work presenting con­sistent with her gender identity as a woman.

The EEOC charged in its suit that Harris violated Title VII by firing the funeral director because of her transgender status, because of her gender transition, and based on gender-based stereotypes.