EEOC Issues Landmark Ruling: Army Discriminated Against Trans Employee

EEOC Issues Landmark Ruling: Army Discriminated Against Trans Employee

For the first time, a transgender employee of the U.S. military won a favorable ruling from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and has been granted monetary damages for unlawful workplace discrimination, the Transgender Law Center announced last Wednesday.

Tamara Lusardi, a 49-year-old disabled veteran currently employed by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research as a software quality assurance specialist, sued the Army in 2014 after years of being called, "sir," "he," "it," and having supervisors use her birth name in front of colleagues as a way to "out" her and "mock" her for being trans. Lusardi's suit, which was filed by the TLC, also said she was barred from using the women's restrooms during the four years since she began transitioning to female, only being allowed to use the single-stall, gender-neutral restroom so that her coworkers would not feel "uncomfortable."

In October, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, conducted an investigation and declared that Lusardi had indeed faced treatment from Army staff that was "sufficiently frequent, pervasive, and humilitating" to the point of "constitut[ing] discriminatory harassment" that "served as a "constant reminder that she was deprived of equal status, respect, and disgnity in the workplace." The groundbreaking report was the first time a federal agency had acknowledged the discrimination that trans federal employees can face.

"We acknowledge that while certain employees may object to allowing a transgender individual to use the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity," the report went on to state. "[But] coworker (or even supervisor) anxiety or confusion alone cannot justify discriminatory working conditions. Indeed, allowing the preferences or prejudices of coworkers to dictate the working conditions of another employee reinforces the very stereotypes and biases that Title VII is intended to overcome.”

This month, the EEOC made it clear it agreed with the Office of Special Counsel, ruling that Lusardi was subjected to a "hostile working environment" by the Army in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and awarding her an undisclosed monetary sum. In December, the Department of Justice announced a reversal of the government's longstanding position, clarifying that moving forward, the federal government would interpret cases of antitrans workplace discrimination as a form of "sex discrimination" prohibited in Title VII.

Lusardi's case, in addition to a handful of others that have followed in the wake of 2012's groundbreaking EEOC ruling in antitrans workplace discrimination case Macy v. Holder, will carry "precedential weight" according to the Transgender Law Center, allowing more trans federal and military employees to come to the EEOC with their experiences of workplace discrimination.

“From the start this has been about getting a fair shake to work hard at a job I love,” Lusardi said of the decision in a statement from the TLC. “As a disabled veteran, I take great pride in my work making sure our soldiers are safe, and I want to be able to focus on doing a good job without worrying about harassment in the workplace or getting in trouble when I need to use a bathroom. This decision makes it clear that, like everyone else in the workplace, transgender employees should be judged by the quality of the work we do, not by who we are.”

"With this groundbreaking decision, the federal government has made it clear that it’s not acceptable to single out transgender employees for harassment — including by forcing them to use a different bathroom than everyone else," Kris Hayashi, executive director of the TLC, said in a statement. "This case confirms that under our laws, all of us, including transgender people, get to have a fair chance to earn a living and be ourselves at work."

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