The suit was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and Jillian Weiss and Ezra Young of the Law Office of Jillian T. Weiss, P.C., on behalf of Britney Austin, who alleged harassment and discrimination in her position as a call centre employee at the Phoenix, Arizona office of Deluxe Corp. (That office has since closed.)
Ms. Austin alleges that in 2011 after she notified her employer of her upcoming gender transition, she was subjected to ongoing offensive slurs by managers and coworkers. The company also allegedly prohibited her from using restrooms consistent with her gender identity. In addition Deluxe Corp. failed to change her name and sex on company records on grounds that including sex reassignment surgery was required in order to make this record change; but the company denied her coverage of any medically necessary transgender health care, and denied her severance pay and COBRA benefits when Deluxe closed its Phoenix office and laid off its employees working at that location.
In its complaint the EEOC alleged that Deluxe Corp. violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting Ms. Austin to “a hostile work environment and disparate treatment because of her sex, including because Ms. Austin is a woman who is transgender…” Ms. Austin filed her own complaint adding that Deluxe’s health plan was discriminatory because it excluded all medically necessary care for gender dysphoria and also argued that she received “disparate treatment… unlawful medical inquiries, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
Under the terms of the settlement, Deluxe Corp. has agreed to pay Ms. Austin $115,000. Deluxe Corp. has also agreed to remove all trans-specific exclusions in its health care plan. The company will apologise to Ms. Austin for the way she was treated and fully implement companywide policies banning sex discrimination based on gender identity and gender dysphoria, and administer comprehensive training for human resource employees and other managers that ensure adherence to such policies. Deluxe also agrees to allow transgender employees to use restrooms “commensurate with their gender identity” and agrees to allow the EEOC to monitor the company’s compliance with the mandates of the settlement for three-years.
“This settlement sends a strong message. No one should face harassment and bias in the workplace, simply for being transgender,” said Ms. Austin’s attorney, Jillian T. Weiss, founder of the Law Office of Jillian T. Weiss, P.C. “It is through the bravery of people who are willing to stand up for their rights, that such rights are achieved. We applaud our client, Ms. Austin, for having the courage to speak out, take action and bring change.”
“Transgender people should never face the bias I endured in the workplace. We should be able to earn a living and provide for our families without fear of discrimination for being who we are,” said Ms. Austin. “I am so relieved to come to this settlement with my former employer, put this case behind and move on with my life. I hope by standing up for my rights I will help improve the workplace for other transgender employees in the future.”
Attorney Ezra Young clarified the settlement’s groundbreaking health benefits components. “Structural barriers to healthcare—such as the categorical exclusion on all transition-related care challenged by Ms. Austin—have played an integral role in foreclosing access to medically recommended and necessary care for many trans Americans for decades. This settlement is an important step in clarifying that transgender health benefits discrimination is absolutely prohibited by existing federal law.”
“We are extremely grateful to the EEOC for taking on this important case on behalf of our client and working side by side with us to achieve a settlement that marks yet another Title VII victory for transgender employees,” Weiss said. “The Jillian T. Weiss Law Firm is also excited to have achieved the first major Americans with Disabilities Act victory on behalf of a transgender employee. Discrimination against transgender employees is illegal under federal law everywhere in the United States,” she added. “This case adds to the growing number of EEOC victories with the same conclusion.”
Weiss continued: “Deluxe Financial Services, Inc. has now recognised, to its credit, the importance of ensuring that company managers and employees follow the law by treating transgender employees with fairness and respect moving forward. It is our hope that other companies will learn from this example.”
Attorney Ezra Young joined Jillian Weiss and the EEOC in bringing this case.