TAMPA, Fla. — Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Fla.-based organization of health care professionals, will pay $150,000 to settle one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ) alleging sex discrimination against a transgender individual, the agency announced today. Lakeland additionally agreed to implement a new gender discrimination policy and to provide training to its management and employees regarding transgender/gender stereotype discrimination. The settlement was approved by the U.S. District Court in Tampa late Thursday, April 9, 2015.
"This historic settlement is significant," said David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel. "It not only is one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the Commission alleging sex discrimination against a transgender individual, but it also solidifies the EEOC's commitment to enforcing the rights of transgender employees secured by Title VII."
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that Lakeland Eye Clinic discriminated based on sex by firing its Director of Hearing Services after she began to present as a woman and informed the defendant that she was transgender, despite the fact that the employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. The complaint alleged that the action was taken because the former Director was transgender, transitioning from male to female, and because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based stereotypes.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes non-conformance with gender stereotypes. The EEOC filed suit ( Case No. 8:14-cv-2421-T35 AEP, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, Lakeland agreed to adopt a new gender discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination against an employee because the employee is transgender, because the employee is transitioning from one gender to another, and/or because the employee does not conform to Lakeland's sex- or gender-based preferences, expectations, or stereotypes. Lakeland further agreed to provide training to its managers and employees explaining the prohibition against transgender/gender stereotype discrimination under Title VII, and to provide its management with guidance on handling transgender/gender-stereotype complaints.
"Lakeland should be commended for its cooperation with the EEOC in reaching this historic settlement in a timely fashion," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney of the Miami District Office. "As employers take a leadership role in enforcing the law prohibiting discrimination based on one's gender identity, the American workplace will move closer to embracing an inclusive work environment where employees are judged on their merit and not on any preconceived gender stereotype."
Malcolm Medley, director of the EEOC's Miami District Office, added, "The EEOC is committed to its efforts to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It is our policy that employees who are capable and qualified to perform the responsibilities to which they are assigned, should be permitted to do so, regardless of their sexual identity."
The lawsuit against Lakeland is part of the EEOC's ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan ( SEP ), which the Commission adopted in December of 2012. The SEP includes "coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply" as a top Commission enforcement priority. The other EEOC lawsuit alleging discrimination against a transgender individual, EEOC v. Harris Funeral Home, is on-going.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov .