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Trans worker wins $50K in settlement over job bias

McCreery finds relief under determination that Title VII covers trans employees

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Cori McCreery, gay news, Washington Blade, Lambda Legal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC
Cori McCreery, gay news, Washington Blade, Lambda Legal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC

Cori McCreery won a $50,000 settlement from her former employer after she was terminated for being transgender (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal).

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.

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Task Force targets five battleground states in ‘Queer the Vote’

LGBTQ rights organization raises over $15,000 at D.C. event

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LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson (left) speaks to a crowd of supporters at Metrobar on Friday, May 13. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 50 people attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Reunited and Resilient fundraiser at Metrobar on Friday, May 13.

Task Force board member Peter Chandler announced at the first in-person D.C. gathering of the organization since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we all are thirsty and hungry for community right now.”

Following remarks by Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, the organization raised more than $15,000 in pledges of donations from guests.

“I think a lot of us are seeing this bill pop up,” Salazar said, referring to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. “And some of us can feel hopelessness, but I’m really thrilled to share with you that the Task Force is super determined to make sure that we are driving the political power of the LGBT movement through our ‘Queer the Vote’ work in Florida.”

Johnson elaborated on the Task Force’s “Queer the Vote” initiative. “As we look to the 2022 midterms, the Task Force is moving our resources into civic engagement across five states: North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan,” said Johnson.

“That’s not by accident: that’s intentional,” continued Johnson. “These are battleground states. These are states where we are seeing not only attacks on LGBTQ issues, we’re seeing attacks on abortion, we’re seeing attacks on voting rights, we’re seeing attacks on immigrants. We’re seeing multi-front attacks on our people, and that’s exactly where the Task Force wants to be: at those intersections of social justice issues and LGBTQ liberation.”

“The states that we are going to — we could change the impact on elections. In some places the margin is one percent; it is a one percent margin of whether we win or lose. And the majority of states in this country are 10% LGBTQ voters. That plus BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] voters, we have the power to impact elections and make real change.”

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Military college student sues armed forces over HIV+ ban policy

“It is unacceptable that the U.S. military continues to perpetuate harmful stigma against people living with HIV”

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U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont with Vermont National Guard troops (USNG Public Affairs/Vermont)

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont against U.S. military officials and the Vermont National Guard, challenging the antiquated, irrational, and discriminatory policies that bar individuals living with HIV from their professional aspirations of enlisting in or commissioning to the military. 

This lawsuit is brought by John Doe, a Latinx student at a Vermont military academy, who suddenly found himself separated from the Army National Guard and removed from Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the pathway to commissioning with the military as an officer, when he learned that he is HIV-positive. Like many individuals living with HIV, Mr. Doe is on antiretroviral therapy that keeps him healthy and renders his viral load undetectable. Although his treating physician has confirmed that this means he has no physical limitations, the military deemed him unfit for service based on his HIV status alone.

“I am filing this lawsuit to prevent the military from arbitrarily discriminating against people living with HIV,” said Mr. John Doe. “I also hope that this lawsuit can return my dream of a military career to me.” Mr. Doe is deeply devoted to serving his country and has aspired to be a service member since the age of seven. He was raised by a single mother and born into a Latinx family with extensive military history. The military’s current discriminatory policies, however, have trampled Mr. Doe’s dreams.

“It is unacceptable that the U.S. military continues to perpetuate harmful stigma against people living with HIV,” said Sophia Hall, Deputy Litigation Director at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “By this lawsuit, we aim to end these antiquated military policies based on outdated science.”

“These military policies against people living with HIV are unconstitutional and all-around a poor business practice,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The U.S. military is eliminating a talented and diverse workforce on the basis of old science that bears no relation to current fitness.” 

Today’s lawsuit opens up a new frontier in the fight against HIV discrimination by the military, by challenging military policies that prevent individuals from embarking on a military career.  A federal judge from the Eastern District of Virginia recently ruled that asymptomatic HIV-positive service members with an undetectable viral load cannot be separated or discharged from the military merely because of their HIV-positive status. Today’s lawsuit seeks to extend that ruling to those aspiring to a military career. In addition to asking the Court to reinstate Mr. Doe, the lawsuit asks the Court to invalidate the regulations and policies that led to his separation.

Attorney Hall highlighted the civil rights implications of the lawsuit, noting that Black and Latinx individuals make up nearly 70% of HIV diagnoses, but only 30% of the U.S. population. “Military service has long been viewed by communities of color as an admirable path to education and job security,” she said. “That path should not be foreclosed based on the military’s outdated and discriminatory policies regarding HIV.”

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Biden names lesbian Hispanic immigrant to serve on federal judiciary

Ana Reyes born in Uruguary, came U.S. in 1974

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President Biden has nominated Ana Reyes to serve on federal court in D.C.

President Biden has nominated Ana Reyes, an attorney at the D.C-based law firm Williams & Connolly LLP, for a seat on federal court in D.C., making her the first Hispanic woman and the first out lesbian who would ever serve on the court, the White House announced Wednesday.

Reyes was among the five picks in the latest round of judicial nominees announced by the White House, which brings the total number of announced federal judicial nominees in the Biden Administration to 95. Reyes publicly identifies as a lesbian, a White House official said.

Reyes, who immigrated to the United States as a child, has worked as an attorney at Williams & Connolly LLP since 2001 and has been partner at the law firm since 2009, according to her White House bio. Reyes served as a law clerk for Judge Amalya Kearse on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 2000 to 2001, her bio says.

A Washington Post profile on Reyes in 2020 reports she was born in Uruguay and shortly after moved to Spain, before her family came to Louisville in 1979 for her father to pursue a job as a civil engineer. Much of Reyes’s work is pro bono as she represents refugee organizations and challenges anti-asylum regulations, the Post reported.

“I often wonder whether this career would have been possible if I had not had someone spend her extra time to help me learn English and not fall behind or through the cracks,” Reyes was quoted as saying in the profile. “I would very much love to say thank you, and my life very likely wouldn’t have been possible, without you.”

Reyes obtained law degree in 2000 from Harvard Law School, where she graduated magna cum laude, and obtained her master’s degree in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, with honors, in 2014. Reyes obtained her bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University in 1996.

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