The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that Walmart unlawfully discriminated against a transgender employee.
Jessica Shyne Robison, a longtime employee of Walmart subsidiary Sam’s Club in Florida, says she was “subjected to harassment and intimidation” by a supervisor in 2014 after she began her gender transition.
After filing a complaint, Ms Robison was disciplined and demoted.
Ms Robinson brought action under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination based on sex – and won her case today.
The US government commission ruled that there is “reasonable cause to believe” that Sam’s Club discriminated against her in violation of civil rights laws.
The Commission stated that “there is reasonable cause to believe that [Sam’s Club] discriminated against [Ms. Robison] due to her transgender status/gender identity and retaliated against [her]”.
The Commission also ruled that Walmart’s health care policy, excluding coverage of medically necessary transgender health care, violated the law.
The EEOC added: “The Commission found that the Walmart healthcare plan had “categorically excluded coverage of any services for ‘transgender treatment/sex therapy’, denying [her] medically necessary care that would have been covered if not for transgender status. As such, [Walmart]’s policy discriminated based on sex as well as against transgender individuals as a class, in violation of Title VII.”
Walmart says it has since “removed the categorical exclusion for services related to ‘trangende treatment /sex therapy’,” as of the start of this year.
The case as brought by Ms Robison and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
Robison said: “I have always worked hard during my time as a Sam’s Club employee and my dedication to the job resulted in numerous promotions. But all that changed after people found out I was transgender.
“Sam’s Club ignored my my job performance and targeted me. It was wrong and the company must make amends. I am grateful to TLDEF and I look forward to moving my case forward.”
Jillian Weiss, Executive Director of TLDEF, said: “Ms. Robison was an exemplary manager, who was singled out by Sam’s Club simply for being a woman.
“This EEOC determination is an important step on the path to finding justice for Ms. Robison. The ruling sends a strong message.
“No one should ever be targeted for discrimination on the basis of sex. The EEOC has put its weight behind Ms. Robison’s claims. We will continue our fight to get justice for Ms. Robison.”
There is no federal law that bans discrimination against LGBT people, so the EEOC’s decision relies on an interpretation of a civil rights provision outlawing discrimination based on sex.
Such interpretations have been hotly contested in the past few months.
Under the Trump administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has argued that the Civil Rights Act provisions should be narrowly interpreted to refer to discrimination against men or women, whereas Obama-era officials had argued that it logically also provided protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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