In historic first, trans woman in Russia wins discrimination lawsuit against employer

Demonstration of support for gays and lesbians of Russia against homophobic of the Act passed by the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Protestors hold Russian flags and signs showing Russian President Vladimir Putin's face covered in makeup
Demonstration of support for gays and lesbians of Russia against homophobic of the Act passed by the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Protestors hold Russian flags and signs showing Russian President Vladimir Putin's face covered in makeupPhoto: Shutterstock

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a Russian court ruled in favor of a transgender woman who claimed she was fired because of her gender identity.

On Tuesday, the Frunze District Court of St. Petersburg awarded “Anastasia Vasilyeva” nearly $28,000 in damages and lost wages after she was terminated from the Yanoshka printing press in 2017. Vasilyeva’s lawsuit alleges she was dismissed from the position after she presented her employers with a corrected passport listing her gender as female — a legal process which took her around a year to complete.

The plaintiff had worked for the printing company for 12 years with male identification, but her legal designation as female presented a conflict for her employers. The profession is one of more than 450 occupations in which women are forbidden, per a 2000 law passed in Russia.

The restriction was reportedly intended to bar women from “arduous” professions to protect their reproductive health.

In an interview with Sky News, Vasilyeva claims that after receiving the updated documentation, her employers “immediately referred to the list of prohibited professions and fired [her].”

During the year-old application process for a new passport, she adds that she “carried out [her] duties well throughout that time.”

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Initially, a lower court ruled against Vasilyeva, claiming that her employer did not engage in unlawful discrimination by terminating her. However, the Presidium of the City Court ordered reconsideration of the case.

After a two-year legal battle, Vasilyeva’s attorneys say this week’s victory sets a “very important precedent” in a conservative country where LGBTQ people often have little to celebrate. Maksim Olenichev, who defended her in court, tells Radio Free/Radio Liberty Europe that a transgender Russian had never “managed to defend [their] labor rights in court” before last week.

Coming Out, an LGBTQ organization based in St. Petersburg, confirms that the court decision was a landmark in the country.

“This is the first case in Russia that we know of in which a transgender person defended her rights with regards to discrimination in employment, and we hope that this victory will be empowering for many other transgender people to follow in her steps,” the group claims in a statement.

Polina Andrianova, the director of Coming Out, adds that the case has implications for both women’s rights and LGBTQ equality in Russia.

“Why is the government telling women what they can and cannot do, perpetuating harmful stereotypes about women’s role in society as being that of a mother and caretaker?” she asks in an email to LGBTQ Nation. “Anastasia’s example demonstrates that a woman can choose not to bear children and that the state should not be dictating to her where she can or cannot work.”

According to LGBTQ activists, Vasilyeva’s lawsuit points out the absurdity of restricting where women can work due to reproductive concerns. “It’s not even possible” for Vasilyeva to bear a child, Andrianova says.

While the Frunze District Court ordered Yanoshka to give the plaintiff her job back, trans people will continue to face extreme challenges in the workplace just six years after Russia passed a law banning the spread of LGBTQ “propaganda.” According to a 2016 study from the advocacy group Pravo Trans, 50 percent of transgender Russians say they have been fired or denied employment because of their gender identity since coming out.

In fact, workplace discrimination against trans individuals is so pervasive that 61 percent of respondents claimed they have been afraid to look for a job in fear of being subjected to mistreatment.

Rather than addressing these issues by expanding protections in the workplace, Russia has continued to pass laws and regulations targeting its most vulnerable. In 2015, the country announced that transgender people will no longer be permitted to apply for driver’s licenses. According to the BBC, officials argued that “sexual disorders” contribute to Russia’s high rate of auto fatalities, comparing transgender people to exhibitionists and voyeurs.

LGBTQ groups hope this week’s rulings encourages Russia to pass necessary reforms to aid its ailing trans population.

“As governments around the world come under increasing pressure to protect LGBTQ rights, Russian authorities stubbornly retain laws that imperil the community’s safety,” Daniel Balson, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director for Amnesty International, tells LGBTQ Nation. “We can only hope that this ruling forces Russian officials to see LGBTQ people for what they really are: equal to anyone else.”

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