ACLU Criticizes Decision in Louisiana Transgendered Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
September 17, 2002 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW ORLEANS – Late yesterday afternoon, a United States District Judge decided that the federal ban on sex discrimination does not apply to people who are transgendered. He then dismissed Peter Oiler’s case against the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain, even though Winn-Dixie never claimed that Oiler’s off-the-job cross-dressing interfered with his work in any way.

Almost 15 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said that laws against sex discrimination prevent employers from firing a person who doesn’t act “”like a man”” or “”like a woman.”” But that, the ACLU said, is just what Winn-Dixie did. “”We believe that courts will reject the idea that only some people are protected from discrimination based on stereotypes about sex,”” said Ken Choe, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

Some courts already have moved past this cramped reading of civil rights law, Choe said. Two states and about 40 cities have guaranteed that more courts will do likewise by passing laws that specifically forbid discrimination based on gender identity. In addition to that, more than 100 private employers have included gender identity in their employment nondiscrimination policies.

Peter Oiler had worked for Winn-Dixie for 21 years, during which he showed up for work on time, did a good job, and followed all the rules, but in January of 2000 he was fired because he cross-dresses off-duty. Oiler and his wife Shirley lost their health insurance, and nearly lost their home. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Peter’s behalf, charging that Winn-Dixie violated state and federal sex discrimination laws.

“”Discrimination based on gender identity is just as foolish and wrongheaded as all the other practices that deny people jobs and homes on account of something that has no bearing on ability or work ethic,”” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU. “”Sooner or later,”” he added, “”courts will recognize that people who do their jobs well should not lose their jobs simply because they are transgendered. But people like Peter Oiler will suffer until that day comes. We should speed the process by passing federal and state laws now that specifically forbid gender identity discrimination.””

The case is Peter Oiler v. Winn-Dixie Louisiana, Inc. Civil Action No. 00-3114 (Sect. “”I””). The ACLU’s complaint in the case can be found at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/oiler_v_winndixie.html

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