Fired Trans Employee Asked 'What Are You?' Settles Discrimination Case

Alabama resident Jessi Dye

Alabama resident Jessi Dye's first day working at Summerford Nursing Home was an unbelievable experience. While things started out normally, she says the day took a dramatic turn when she was called into the manager's office, insulted, and abruptly fired because Dye is transgender.

After completing the new hire paperwork and training, plus getting vaccinated, Dye was called into Robert Summerford's office to talk about the discrepancy between the gender she presents as and the gender marker on her driver's license. "What are you?" Summerford reportedly asked as Dye entered his office.

"It was exactly like being punched in the stomach," Dye told The Huffington Post in a phone interview after a settlement in her discrimination case was announced.

After Dye explained she is transgender and in the middle of transition, Summerford allegedly asked her "What am I supposed to do with you?" before instructing her to gather her belongings and leave the building.

Dye filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with assistance from the Southern Poverty Law Center. After months of legal wrangling, the company decided to settle the case for an undisclosed amount of money. The nursing home will also implement nondiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, plus train its staff on how to deal with LGBT issues.

"I think the takeaway here is that we have a small company that is represented by competent lawyers and they saw the writing on the wall," SPLC lawyer Sam Wolfe told The Huffington Post. "It’s an admission that employers do need to pay attention to their obligations under federal law to not discriminate because of someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation."

Approximately 15 percent of transgender people earn less than $10,000 a year — a poverty rate four times higher the national average. Transgender Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed but have a higher level of education than the general population, according to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force. Ninety percent of transgender workers reported harassment or discrimination on the job.

Alabama does not have a law preventing discrimination against LGBT people. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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