$150,000 Settlement in First of Two Lawsuits Filed by EEOC Alleging Sex Discrimination Against a Transgender Individual

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Fla.-based organization of health care professionals, will pay $150,000 to settle one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging sex discrimination against a transgender individual.  Lakeland additionally agreed to implement a new gender discrimination policy and to provide training to its management and employees regarding transgender/gender stereotype discrimination. The settlement was approved by the U.S. District Court in Tampa late Thursday, April 9, 2015. 

The EEOC's lawsuit charged that Lakeland Eye Clinic discriminated based on sex by firing its Director of Hearing Services after she began to present as a woman and informed the defendant that she was transgender, despite the fact that the employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment.  The complaint alleged that the action was taken because the former Director was transgender, transitioning from male to female, and because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based stereotypes.  

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes non-conformance with gender stereotypes.  The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 8:14-cv-2421-T35 AEP, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. 

Soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, Lakeland agreed to adopt a new gender discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination against an employee because the employee is transgender, because the employee is transitioning from one gender to another, and/or because the employee does not conform to Lakeland's sex- or gender-based preferences, expectations, or stereotypes.  Lakeland further agreed to provide training to its managers and employees explaining the prohibition against transgender/gender stereotype discrimination under Title VII, and to provide its management with guidance on handling transgender/gender-stereotype complaints.  

The lawsuit against Lakeland is part of the EEOC's ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which the Commission adopted in December of 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. The other EEOC lawsuit alleging discrimination against a transgender individual, EEOC v. Harris Funeral Home, is on-going.

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