A Minnesota-based company is facing a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleges the company discriminated against a transgender employee.
Shoreview-based Deluxe Financial Services Corp. is being accused of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the company caused a hostile work environment for Britney Erica Austin. The allegations against the company include not updating company information to reflect Austin’s gender, prohibiting her from using the appropriate restrooms, and name-calling and harassment by management and staff.
According to the lawsuit, Austin’s supervisors repeatedly blocked her from using the women’s restroom:
35.On January 21, 2011 Warn, by email, ordered that Austin be prohibited from using the women’s restroom.
36. Defendant’s asserted reason for this prohibition was its “consideration” of “other employees.”
37. In a meeting between Ridley and Austin on or about January 26, 2011, Ridley told Austin, “we’ve dealt with this before” after Austin again requested to use the women’s restroom.
38.Austin is not the first transgender employee at Deluxe Financial who has requested to use a restroom consistent with his or her gender identity, but was prohibited from doing so.
39.On January 26, 2011, Hernandez and Ridley told Austin that she was prohibited from using the women’s restroom on its premises. On June 1, 2011 – more than seven months after Austin first explained her gender transition to Defendant’s officials and asked to be allowed to use the restroom consistent with the gender identity of female — Austin approached Chavez and again asked that she be allowed to use the women’s restroom and that all internal records be changed to accurately reflect her name and sex
55.Despite receiving Austin’s medical records, notice of Austin’s legal name change, and a copy of her driver’s license, Defendant continued to deny Austin use of the women’s restroom on its premises
57.The restroom near the cafeteria was not in the sole ownership, custody, or control of Defendant.
58.Hernandez immediately reported the incident to Warn via email, and added: “And just an FYI, the restroom that Britney was using wasn’t one of the restrooms in Deluxe, it was in the common area part that we share with Fidelity.”
59.On June 13, 2011, Warn instructed Hernandez via email to prohibit Austin from using the common female restroom, even though she acknowledged that “[h]onestly, I am not sure we can mandate her use of the bathroom outside of the call center, but let’s keep that to ourselves.”
60.Ridley and Hernandez informed Austin that she was not allowed to use the common restroom near the cafeteria although that restroom was outside of Deluxe’s sole control.
61.During the conversation, Austin complained to Chavez that Defendant was violating her rights by refusing to recognize her gender identity and forcing her to use restrooms inconsistent with her gender identity.
62.After Defendant restricted Austin’s use of women’s restrooms throughout the building, Cynthia Perez, one of Defendant’s managers, advised Austin to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
Austin was also subjected to name-calling and misgendering by staff and management:
63.From around the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011 until July 2011, some of Defendant’s managers and Austin’s co-workers repeatedly and intentionally referred to Austin with male pronouns and made derogatory statements about her female appearance, even though they knew she had transitioned from male to female and that she wished to be referred to by female pronouns consistent with her gender identity.
64.Co-workers regularly referred to Austin in a demeaning and derogatory manner. For example, one coworker: a. Repeatedly and intentionally referred to Austin by using male pronouns; b. Referred to Austin as “boy;” c. Called Austin a “Cheetah;” d. Called Austin “Tarzan” to tease her about her hairiness, appearance, and clothes.
The alleged hostile work environment and discrimination occurred at Deluxe’s Arizona location. Deluxe is one of the two largest check printers in the country.
“A long-term, well-respected employee should not be rewarded for her years of dedicated service by being forced to face the indignity and danger of using a restroom inconsistent with her gender identity, simply because a company’s management subscribes to sex stereotypes and believes coworkers may feel uncomfortable,” Rayford O. Irvin, district director for the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, said in a statement. “Employee and customer preferences based on stereotypes are not a legitimate reason to discriminate.”
Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix District Office, added, “In 2011, a study by UCLA found that 78% of transgender employees nationwide reported harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity. These are very high numbers. With workplace discrimination against transgender workers at such alarming levels, the EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender employees and applicants.”
In a statement to the Star Tribune, the company denied the allegations and said, “Deluxe Corporation takes the safety, security and dignity of all our employees very seriously.”
Here’s the complaint filed against Deluxe: