Trans Woman Wins Landmark Settlement in S.D. Discrimination Suit

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com September 16 2013 2:54 PM ET

A transgender woman in South Dakota won a landmark settlement in an employment discrimination lawsuit today, after the grocery store where she worked fired her shortly after she announced her plans to transition from male to female, according to Lambda Legal, which represented the 29-year-old.

Cori McCreery will be awarded $50,000 — the maximum penalty for a business with less than 100 employees — in addition to receiving a formal letter of apology and letter of recommendation from her former employer, plus public notice on the company's bulletin board, a yearly mandatory training on workplace protections, and notice on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's website. 

"This comprehensive settlement makes a strong statement about the EEOC’s commitment that discrimination against transgender workers will not be tolerated," said Dru Levasseur, the director of Lambda Legal's Transgender Rights Project, in a statement. "The days of firing people on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression have passed. The EEOC has demonstrated clear support, and we anticipate more victories for transgender and gender nonconforming people."

McCreery worked as a clerk at Don's Valley Market in Rapid City, S.D., on and off for five years and at two separate locations, reports Lambda Legal. Three months after being rehired in 2010, McCreery was promoted to a supervisor. Shortly thereafter, she informed her employers that she planned to begin transitioning from male to female, and she was initially promised continued job security. But then the owner told McCreery she was "making other employees uncomfortable," and because the owner had a "seven million dollar investment in the protect," McCreery was abruptly fired. 

Monday's settlement follows several other recent decisions in which the EEOC has affirmed that transgender people are protected from workplace discrimination under Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit workplace discrimination and sex-based discrimination, respectively. 

In 2012 the EEOC declared that Title IX's prohibition on sex discrimination extends to transgender and other gender-nonconforming people in its landmark ruling in Macy v. Holder, concerning a veteran who was denied a job with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms because she was transgender. Building on that ruling, a transgender woman in Maryland won her employment discrimination suit after she was subjected to physical and verbal harassment at her workplace. 

For her part, McCreery said that she was "incredibly thrilled" with today's settlement. "This gives me hope," she said in a statement. "The day I was fired ... I had no idea what I would do. I now feel a sense of closure and can focus on my future. No one should be fired just because of who they are.

Lambda Legal reports that McCreery is currently employed with a business that scored 100% on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies based on their LGBT-inclusive policies and practices.