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EEOC inks first transgender discrimination settlement agreement

The EEOC has settled one of the first two lawsuits the agency leveled against employers challenging purported discrimination against transgender individuals. Lakeland Eye Clinic has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle allegations that the Lakeland, Florida-based organization of health care professionals violated Title VII when it discriminated against a transgender employee. Lakeland also agreed to implement a new gender discrimination policy and provide training to its management and employees on transgender/gender stereotype discrimination.

Lakeland 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, according to the EEOC’s complaint, despite the fact that she had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. The EEOC asserted that Lakeland took the action because the director was transgender, transitioning from male to female, and because she did not conform to the employer’s gender-based stereotypes.

The commission said that soon after it 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, or because the employee does not conform to Lakeland’s sex- or gender-based preferences, expectations, or stereotypes. Lakeland also agreed to train its managers and employees on Title VII’s prohibition against transgender/gender stereotype discrimination, and to provide guidance on handling transgender/gender-stereotype complaints. A federal court in Tampa approved the agreement late Thursday, April 9, the EEOC said.

“Lakeland should be commended for its cooperation with the EEOC in reaching this historic settlement in a timely fashion,” remarked EEOC Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg. “As employers take a leadership role in enforcing the law prohibiting discrimination based on one’s gender identity, the American workplace will move closer to embracing an inclusive work environment where employees are judged on their merit and not on any preconceived gender stereotype.”

The EEOC said that its lawsuit against Lakeland is part of the commission’s ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan, which includes “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply” as a top enforcement priority. The other EEOC lawsuit alleging discrimination against a transgender individual, EEOC v. Harris Funeral Home, is ongoing.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida; the case number is 8:14-cv-2421-T35 AEP.