First TG Case under 1964 Civil Rights Act is Settled
[CLEVELAND, OH] - A transgender woman called "Mrs. Doubtfire" by co-workers has settled an employment discrimination case against United Consumer Financial Services of Westlake to her satisfaction and strengthened TG worker rights in the process.
The case was the first to hold that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers sexual stereotype non-conformity. After mediation, it was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties on June 28, said attorney Randi Barnabee of Macedonia, who represented the 60-year-old Cleveland woman.
UCFS finances consumer purchases of Kirby sweepers and World Book encyclopedias.
Because the initial complaint alleged that UCFS violated the woman's right to privacy, her identity has not been made public and the amount of the settlement is also confidential.
Prior to filing the federal civil rights suit, the woman turned down UCFS's offer to settle for $1,500.
Barnabee told the Gay People's Chronicle in May 2001 that she felt the case had merit and would not allow her client to settle for less than a substantial amount.
UCFS fired the woman July 11, 2000 after she had worked ten days as a temporary worker through Reserves Network. The case was filed in the United States District Court of Northern Ohio in January 2001.
Notes kept by the temporary agency were used to document the woman's satisfactory job performance and the unusually thorough background check conducted by UCFS. The notes also record UCFS personnel officer Debbie Woodworth asking a Reserves Network representative if she "noticed anything peculiar about [the employee]."
Woodworth then told the representative, "Employees here have named her Mrs. Doubtfire . . . but they don't say it to her face."
Woodworth was also present at a July 10, 2000 meeting with collections manager Brian Davis and UCFS vice president William Ciszozon.
At that meeting, Ciszozon asked the woman if she was a man dressed as a woman, and what her gender was because, "by looking at [her], [Ciszozon] can't tell." Ciszozon also wanted to know if she had an operation.
When the woman protested the line of questioning, she was told that another employee had complained that "a man dressed as a woman was using the ladies restroom."
UCFS notified Reserves of the woman's termination the following day.
UCFS was represented by attorney Lee Hutton of Duvin, Cahn, and Hutton of Cleveland, who asserted during initial mediation that the woman was unable to perform the essential functions of the job.
Hutton filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act cannot protect transsexuals. He said a court ruled in a 1984 case, Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, that Congress had a narrow definition of "sex" in mind, excluding transsexuals, when the act was passed.
However, Judge Kathleen McDonald O'Malley rejected Hutton's motion, finding that the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins says a person cannot be discriminated against for not conforming to the gender stereotype behavior expected by another person or social norms.
This was the first time a court allowed a transgender person to sue an employer for discrimination on the basis of sexual stereotype non- conformity, according to Barnabee, who is transgender herself.
According to Barnabee, this case, "opens the door a little bit" to protect transgender workers, who otherwise have no discrimination protection.
Barnabee has submitted O'Malley's opinion to be published in the Federal Supplement, a collection of opinions used as guidance by federal courts.
Barnabee believes facts of the case had merit, too, but said that had a jury found in UCFS's favor, it could have weakened the persuasive value of O'Malley's opinion on future cases.
Barnabee stressed that the major success of this case was O'Malley's opinion replacing the old Ulane decision and allowing Title VII to protect transgender people.
"It's helpful, too," said Barnabee, "that [O'Malley's court] is part of the Sixth Circuit, which is notoriously conservative."