Feds: Transgender worker in Garden City illegally fired

Ed White
Associated Press

Detroit – — A federal agency on Thursday filed its first lawsuits to protect transgender people in the workplace, accusing a Garden City 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 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 for the company that also has funeral homes in Detroit and Livonia, was fired in 2013 after six years, after telling her boss she was transitioning from male to female, the EEOC said.

Stephens explained in a letter she would soon start to dress in appropriate women’s business attire at work, the EEOC said. Two weeks later, Harris’ owner fired Stephens, telling her what she was “proposing to do” was unacceptable.

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

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

“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.”

Messages seeking comment from the eye clinic were not 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,” EEOC attorney Laurie Young said.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, 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.