CHICAGO — In a case of first impression, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court of Illinois issued an opinion on Aug. 13 upholding the decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC) decision under the Illinois Human Rights Act in favor of Meggan Sommerville, a transgender woman, to gain access to the women's facilities at work that match her gender identity.
Sommerville, a Hobby Lobby employee for more than 23 years, was forced to use the men's restroom or wait until her lunch break to use a women's facility at a nearby business after she transitioned on the job. In 2011, Sommerville filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and subsequently with the IHRC which upheld an administrative judge's findings that Hobby Lobby violated the Illinois Human Rights Act and awarded her damages of $220,000. Hobby Lobby appealed the decision of the Commission and refused to comply with the order that she be permitted to us the bathroom at work while its appeal was pending.
Meggan Sommerville, "I really want to thank the court for the power of its decision. Today, we are seeing anti-transgender legislation all over the country but today I am overjoyed that I live in a State that has such absolute protections for its transgender citizens. The language of the Court's decision is so clear that it will have positive ramifications across the US."
Jacob Meister, an attorney for Sommerville, said, "Today is a great day in Illinois for transgender rights. With its decision, the Illinois courts have made clear that Illinois law mandates equal treatment for transgender citizens and that those, like Hobby Lobby who discriminate will be held accountable."
Illinois state Rep. Sam Yingling, who represents a portion of the 2nd Appellate District, said, "Illinois was one of the first states in the nation to afford full employment protections to the transgender community. I'm proud that Illinois leads the nation in protection of transgender rights. Meggan Sommerville has endured over a decade of abuse at work by Hobby Lobby solely because of her gender identity. But today the Illinois courts sent a clear message that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not tolerated in Illinois."
Oral argument was held before the Second District Appellate Court on July 21, 2021. Whitman H. Brisky argued on behalf of Hobby Lobby; Jacob Meister argued on behalf of Sommerville; and Evan Siegel argued on behalf of the State of Illinois.
Sommerville was represented in the underlying litigation by Katherine Christy and Jacob Meister. Hobby Lobby was represented by Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.