Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Fla.-based organization of health care professionals, discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing an employee because she is transgender, because she was transitioning from male to female, and/or because she did not conform to the employer’s gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
This is one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the agency alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals. The other case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. was filed simultaneously by the EEOC’s Indianapolis District Office.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit against Lakeland Eye Clinic, the defendant’s employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. However, after she began to present as a woman and informed the clinic she was transgender, Lakeland fired her.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on gender stereotyping. The EEOC filed suit against Lakeland Eye Clinic in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division (Case No. 8:14-cv-2421-T35 AEP) after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.
The lawsuits announced yesterday are part of the EEOC’s ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The commission adopted this SEP 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.