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Paul Cates: A Sober Reminder Why We're Still Marching

Paul Cates,
LGBT Project
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June 19, 2008

With all the excitement around lesbian and gay couples marrying in California, it’s easy to forget that really horrible things continue to happen to LGBT people around the country. Yesterday the ACLU filed a lawsuit that shows how much hard work we still have to do.

We are representing Kaylee Seals, a transgender truck driver who was fired from her job at Old Dominion Freight Lines for "impersonating a female." To add insult to injury, Kaylee was still dressing and presenting as a male while working at Old Dominion at the time she was fired.

In November 2005, Kaylee, who had been given awards for good service and safe driving, was sent from Morristown, TN, to Jacksonville, FL. When she arrived in Jacksonville, a dispatcher there gave her a voucher to spend the night in a nearby motel. She had other deliveries to make in Florida, and after each shift, she would return to Jacksonville. On her last day there, a different manager at the company started harassing Kaylee about the vouchers. According to him, male employees were supposed to stay in a company bunk house. Kaylee was dressed in gender neutral clothing (sweat pants and a sweat shirt), but this manager began aggressively questioning Kaylee about her sex and her appearance. Although Kaylee had been unaware that the bunk house was even still operational, Kaylee readily agreed to stay in there for the last night of her trip.

When she got back to her home in Knoxville, Kaylee told a supervisorwho she trusted about the incident in Florida. During this conversation, Kaylee let the supervisor know that she had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and intended to complete the transition to female. Shortly after this conversation, Kaylee was summoned to a meeting with the supervisor and other managers at the company. At this meeting, an Old Dominion manager, noting Kaylee’s “feminine voice” and the fact that Kaylee wore jewelry, accused Kaylee of imitating a woman in order to be able to stay in the motel. The supervisor then terminated Kaylee, claiming that Kaylee’s actions violated company policy.

It turns out Kaylee wasn’t the only offender of this alleged policy. The EEOC did an extensive investigation into the case and learned that four other men were also given vouchers, but they weren’t punished at all. Although the EEOC only finds reasonable cause in five to six percent of its investigations, it concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that Old Dominion discriminated against Kaylee based on sex and sex stereotyping.

While it would be nice if companies recognized on their own that employees should be judged on their work, not whether or not they fall into traditional gender roles, there’s no question that lawsuits help to remind companies that there are serious consequences to treating employees unfairly. The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the ACLU charges that Old Dominion illegally discriminated against Kaylee based on sex and sex stereotyping.

But no jury award could ever compensate Kaylee for the pain she suffered. After she was fired, she became severely depressed and was house-bound for three months. She has since gotten back on her feet and found a new job. But she’s making only a fraction of what she used to make. She’s been living as a woman for over a year now, but surgery will have to wait. It’s expensive and she’s still trying to recover from the loss of income.

Next week another ACLU client, Diane Schroer, is scheduled to testify before Congress about the need for a federal law protecting against transgender discrimination. This hearing will be the first time a transgender person has ever been invited to testify. While both Diane and Kaylee have brought lawsuits seeking protection based on Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, it’s time for Congress to send a loud and clear message to all employers that transgender discrimination has no place in the workplace. Transgender workers need to be able to make a living and support themselves just like everyone else.

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