Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging that Southeastern Oklahoma State University Discriminated Against Transgender Woman

US Department of Justice launches transgender lawsuit while Indiana and other states try to restrict Civil Rights on sexual grounds

EEOC – WASHINGTON – The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Southeastern) and the Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO) for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The university, it is alleged,  discriminated against a transgender employee on the basis of her sex and retaliating against her when she complained about the discrimination.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced in December 2014 that the Department of Justice takes the position that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination is best read to extend the statute’s protection to claims based on an individual’s gender identity, including transgender status.

US Attorney General Eric Holder

According to the United States’ complaint, filed in federal district court in Oklahoma City today, Rachel Tudor began working for Southeastern as an Assistant Professor in 2004. At the time of her hire, Tudor presented as a man.

In 2007, Tudor, consistent with her gender identity, began to present as a woman at work. Throughout her employment, Tudor performed her job well, and in 2009, she applied for a promotion to the tenured position of Associate Professor.

Southeastern’s administration denied her application, overruling the recommendations of her department chair and other tenured faculty from her department. The United States’ complaint alleges that Southeastern discriminated against Tudor when it denied her application because of her gender identity, gender transition and non-conformance with gender stereotypes.

“By standing beside Dr. Tudor, the Department of Justice sends a clear message that we are committed to eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We will not allow unfair biases and unjust prejudices to prevent transgender Americans from reaching their full potential as workers and as citizens. And we will continue to work tirelessly, using every legal tool available, to ensure that transgender individuals are guaranteed the rights and protections that all Americans deserve.”

In 2010, Tudor filed complaints regarding the denial of her application for promotion and tenure. Shortly after it learned of her complaints, Southeastern refused to let Tudor re-apply for promotion and tenure despite Southeastern’s own policies permitting re-application. At the end of the 2010-11 academic year, Southeastern and RUSO terminated Tudor’s employment because she had not obtained tenure.

Tudor filed a charge of discrimination with the Oklahoma City Area Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that Southeastern’s decisions were unlawful. The EEOC investigated the charge and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred. The EEOC’s attempts at conciliation were unsuccessful, and it referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

This lawsuit was brought by the Department of Justice as a result of a joint effort to enhance collaboration between the EEOC and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for vigorous enforcement of Title VII.

“This is a tremendous example of how collaboration between EEOC and the Department of Justice leads to strong and coordinated enforcement of Title VII,” said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. “This case furthers the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan, which includes coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions as a national enforcement priority.”

“The American workplace must be a level playing field free from discrimination – a place where employees compete based on their merit,” said Director Holly Waldron Cole of the EEOC’s Oklahoma City Area Office. “Here, the decisions about Dr. Tudor’s employment should have been based on her qualifications, not on impermissible bias and stereotype.”

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, including transgender Americans,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “Discrimination against employees because of their gender identity, gender transition, or because they do not conform to stereotypical notions about how men and women should act or appear violates Title VII. Retaliating against an employee for complaining about unlawful discrimination, as happened in this case, is also unacceptable under Title VII.”

As alleged in the complaint, Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination because of gender identity or because an employee has completed a gender transition or is undertaking a gender transition. Title VII also prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because her behavior or appearance does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes. In addition, Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees, like Tudor, who lodge complaints about discriminatory treatment. Through its lawsuit, the United States seeks both monetary and injunctive relief.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced in December 2014 that the Department of Justice takes the position that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination is best read to extend the statute’s protection to claims based on an individual’s gender identity, including transgender status.

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information on the Civil Rights Division’s work is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/. More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available on the website of the of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov) and the Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division (www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp).

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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