A transgender victim of workplace discrimination in South Dakota has won the maximum possible amount of $50,000 in damages as the result of a settlement she reached with her former employer.
Cori McCreery, 29, worked as a store clerk for the local grocery chain known as Don’s Valley Market in Rapid Valley, S.D. Although she was promoted in 2010, she was terminated after she announced she would transition. Lambda Legal filed suit on her behalf in March 2012.
The settlement, announced by Lambda on Monday, was backed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and includes $50,000, which is the maximum statutory amount for a business with fewer than 100 employees.
Additionally, the settlement includes public notice on the EEOC website, public notice on the workplace bulletin board, a mandatory policy in the workplace on workplace protections, a yearly three-hour all-staff mandatory training on workplace protections, as well as a letter of apology and letter of recommendation for McCreery.
Dru Levasseur, Lambda’s transgender rights project director, said the settlement is “a strong statement” from the EEOC that transgender workplace discrimination won’t be tolerated.
“The days of firing people on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression have passed,” Levasseur said. “The EEOC has demonstrated clear support, and we anticipate more victories for transgender and gender nonconforming people.”
Julie Schmid, acting director of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office, which handled the investigation, said employers must realize anti-trans bias in the workplace is a liability.
“Employers need to be made aware that their personal myths, fears, and stereotypes about gender identity can subject them to liability if they act upon them in an employment setting,” Schmid said.
According to Lambda, McCreery was initially given assurances she’d have job security after she announced she’d transition, but was swiftly fired after being told she was “making other employees uncomfortable” and the company had a “7 million dollar investment to protect.”
Cori McCreery, who now works for a company that scores 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, said she’s “so incredibly thrilled” with the decision.
“This gives me hope,” McCreery said. “The day I was fired, I had no idea what I would do. I now feel a sense of closure and can focus on my future. No one should be fired just because of who they are.”
Don Turner, owner of Don’s Valley Market, told the Washington Blade he’ll comply with the terms of the settlement, but declined further comment.
Lambda filed suit on behalf of McCreery in March 2012 on the basis that transgender workplace discrimination amounted to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The next month in April 2012, the EEOC ruled transgender discrimination was indeed prohibited under current law as the result of another case, Macy v. Holder. That laid the groundwork for a settlement forinMcCreery’s case.
Chai Feldblum, the lesbian EEOC commissioner credited with leading the way for the Macy decision, also responded to the McCreery settlement.
“Individuals need to be treated on their merits,” Feldblum said. “I am glad that EEOC staff was available to help this hard-working individual.”
The first two transgender victims of workplace bias who publicly announced they won relief under this interpretation of the law are Mia Macy, the plaintiff in the Macy case, as well as another transgender employee in Maryland whose named wasn’t publicly disclosed.