Aug Sept 2016
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The Advocate

Trans Activist Sues North Dakota Hospital for Employment Discrimination

Faye Seidler

A North Dakota transgender woman has launched a federal lawsuit against her former employer, Sanford Health, for discriminating against her based on her gender identity, according to the Associated Press.  

Faye Seidler worked as a technician at Sanford hospital in Fargo, N.D. As a patient, she also received gender-affirming health care at Sanford, beginning hormone therapy two years ago. 

“As the months went on, they interrogated and intimated me about my gender identity, disregarded that I was being misgendered, had me change in an emergency shower room, and told me educating employees about gender was the same as forcing them to learn about the Muslim religion as part of their job,” Seidler told The New York Times. Her lawsuit says that she was forced to quit because the onerous workplace conditions prevented her from executing her job humanely. 

During her initial 90-day employment period, Seidler ”thoughtfully and thoroughly” explained her transition to Sanford management, as her lawsuit maintains, and she requested to use female accommodations. But the hospital refused her request for access to the women’s locker rooms in November of last year, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. She was forced to store her $300 down jacket in a break room — where it was vandalized and damaged with ink. Her lawsuit further contends that one supervisor emailed at least 16 employees to convey “exasperation” with Seidler’s requests. The lawsuit also alleges that management delayed equitable treatment, telling Seidler that “things take time.”

“The worst part [is that] this was the same hospital I was a patient of, the same hospital who treated me for my condition,” Seidler told the Times, reasoning that Sanford’s alleged conduct raises concerns for how the hospital may treat both its trans employees and its patients. “How much trust could I have in the hospital’s ability to care for me as a patient, when they couldn't care for me as an employee? That they didn't do things for me because they said they didn't legally have to?” 

“Sanford’s employment policies prohibit discrimination of any kind including discrimination based on sexual orientation," a Sanford spokesperson told the AP. "Sanford will respond and defend against this lawsuit.”

But Seidler’s attorney, Joshua Newville, tells The Advocate that even Sanford’s response to his client's suit belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“The employer’s statement demonstrates its continued misunderstanding of transgender individuals,” says Newville. “This case isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about gender. It is my sincere hope that this lawsuit will, at a bare minimum, encourage employers to make a more sincere and concerted effort to more fully understand these issues in order to prevent the kind of workplace discrimination my client felt she suffered.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed Faye Seidler’s complaint in September, noting that it is “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of statutes.” 

But, says Newville, “There are hundreds of cases of discrimination per year where employers with policies that prohibit discrimination are nonetheless found to have discriminated. Policies on paper are one thing. The actual treatment of real people in real time is another. The EEOC deals with thousands of charges of discrimination each year. There are countless instances in which the EEOC has not found probable cause to move forward with enforcement and plaintiffs have nonetheless been successful in seeking redress in court.”

Newville also drives home the following point:

“Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also protects transgender employees. Stereotypes about who is properly considered ‘male’ and ‘female’ are damaging to our society. They are irrational vestiges of long-outdated notions that men and women have certain 'proper’ places in society and should look or act a certain way. When people harbor such sentiments, regardless of whether it is based on fear and uncertainty or outright hostility, it can lead to discrimination in the workplace and beyond. This lawsuit is about whether this Fargo employer allowed that to happen.”

A well-regarded LGBT rights activist, Seidler previously testified in front of the North Dakota House of Representatives about LGBT rights, and has advocated for better healthcare for transgender individuals. In August, she told the Bismarck Tribune, “A huge concern is a lot of trans people cannot get the medical care they need. Some people are refused treatment just for being trans, even if it's not trans-related treatment.”

Now, with her lawsuit, Seidler has found an expanded sense of purpose as an activist. “I'm not afraid to fight," she told the Times. "I will never give up the fight to be treated human.” 

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