Lake Charles Location Terminated Employee Because of Transgender Status, Commission Charges
NEW ORLEANS - Mississippi-based First Tower Loan, LLC violated federal law by firing a Lake Charles, La., manager-trainee because he is transgender, and/or because he did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences or stereotypes, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
Because the employee had previously filed suit, EEOC filed a motion with the federal court to intervene as an additional plaintiff. Judge Carl Barbier of the Eastern District Court of Louisiana in New Orleans granted EEOC's motion.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Tristan Broussard began working as a manager-trainee in First Tower's Lake Charles, La., office on March 4, 2013. While completing his employment paperwork on that date, he was required to produce his driver's license as a valid form of identification. Manager Leah Sparks, who had interviewed Broussard for the position, noticed that his driver's license listed his sex as "F" and she questioned him about it. Broussard explained that he was a transgender man. Sparks then notified First Tower Vice President David Morgan of this fact.
On March 11 of that year, Morgan traveled to the Lake Charles office to meet with Broussard and told him that he must dress and act as a female in the workplace. Broussard replied that he is transgender and lives and identifies as male. Morgan told Broussard that he would not be allowed to dress as a man because Morgan thought it would be confusing to customers, although there is no evidence that any customer complained about Broussard. Morgan went further by saying that First Tower might consider employing him as a man if he underwent surgery. As a condition of continued employment, Morgan ordered Broussard to sign a written statement containing this language:
I understand that my preference to act and dress as a male, despite having been born a female, is not something that will be in compliance with First Tower Loan's personnel policies. I have been advised as to the proper dress for females and also have been provided a copy of the female dress code. I also understand that when meetings occur that require out of town travel and an overnight room is required, I will be in [sic] assigned to a room with a female.
When Broussard refused to sign the statement, First Tower fired him.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on transgender status and gender stereotyping. EEOC intervened in the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (Broussard v. First Tower Loan, LLC, Case No. 2:15-cv-01161) after first having investigated discrimination charges and having issued a notice of right to sue requested by Broussard. EEOC is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting First Tower Loan from engaging in unlawful sex discrimination in the future, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages for Broussard, and other relief the court deems proper.
"Addressing discrimination based on gender identity is a priority issue for the Commission," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "The Supreme Court ruled in 1989, in the case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes is 'because of sex' and violates Title VII. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reaffirmed that principle in EEOC v. Boh Bros. in 2013 in the same-sex harassment context. The EEOC considers that this suit concerning transgender issues requires the same conclusion."
EEOC Regional Attorney Jim Sacher, whose jurisdiction includes Louisiana, said, "Mr. Broussard was qualified for his position and was performing well. There is no reason why an employer should fire an employee because he is transgender or because he does not fit with the employer's notions of gender conformity. Title VII makes that illegal."
The lawsuit is part of EEOC's ongoing efforts to implement its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which it adopted SEP in December 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.
First Tower Loan is a financial loan company based in Flowood, Miss., with over 170 offices in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Illinois.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.