EEOC suing two companies, alleging transgender workers illegally fired



DETROIT — A federal agency on Thursday filed its first lawsuits to protect transgender people in the workplace, accusing a Michigan funeral home and a Florida eye clinic of illegally firing employees who were making a transition to female.

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes of Garden City, Michigan, and Lakeland Eye Clinic of Lakeland, Florida, violated federal law by discriminating based on gender stereotypes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. It’s the first time the agency has sued claiming discrimination against people who are transgender.

Amiee Stephens, an embalmer and funeral director, was fired in 2013 after six years, after telling her boss she was transitioning from male to female, the EEOC said.

Brandi Branson was fired in 2011 as director of hearing services at Lakeland Eye in Florida after saying she was undergoing a gender transition to female, the agency said.

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“Branson began wearing feminine attire to work, including makeup and women’s tailored clothing,” according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tampa, Florida. “Branson observed that co-workers snickered, rolled their eyes and withdrew from social interactions with her.”

The lawsuit against the funeral home was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Messages seeking comment from the funeral home and the clinic weren’t immediately returned.

Federal law “prohibits employers from firing employees because they do not behave according to the employer’s stereotypes of how men and women should act,” said EEOC attorney Laurie Young.

The Human Rights Campaign applauded the EEOC’s actions: “Transgender people continue to face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the workplace,” legal director Sarah Warbelow said.

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