When Jessi Dye showed up for her first day of work at Summerford Nursing Home, she had nothing but high hopes. She filled out her hiring paperwork, attended workshops and received vaccinations. Jessi was excited that the home had offered to pay for her training to become a certified nurse’s assistant.
But a few hours later, she was fired.
Robert Summerford, the manager of the company, called her into his office at lunch to discuss her paperwork.
As soon as Jessi walked through the door, Robert bluntly asked her “What are you?”
“It was exactly like being punched in the stomach,” Jessi recalled to HuffPo.
And while Jessi may have been caught off guard, her new boss’ attitude was nothing new. As a trans woman living in Vinetown, Alabama, Jessi was used to awkward questions when her employers noticed the identity on her driver’s license doesn’t match the one she presents in person.
After she answered Summerford’s question by explaining her situation — that she was born male and is transitioning to female — he came back at her with “What am I supposed to do with you?”
Then he fired her on the spot.
Jessi filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit with the help of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, and rather than see the matter reach a federal court, the company Robert works for agreed to settle.
Part of the settlement required the company to institute an official policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to conduct sensitivity training regarding LGBTQ people.
A lawyer with the SPLC told HuffPo that the quick settlement should be seen as a sign of progress.
“I think the takeaway here is that we have a small company that is represented by competent lawyers and they saw the writing on the wall. It’s an admission that employers do need to pay attention to their obligations under federal law to not discriminate because of someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Federal law, however, remains a bit vague. Advocates have been unable to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would give clear-cut workplace protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Outside of congress, President Obama has signed an executive order protecting federal employees (and the employees of federal contractors) from anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created to enforce and implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ruled earlier this year that LGBTQ protections are covered under Title VII of the law.
“I don’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through that day,” she said.