Metro Weekly

Walmart’s Sam’s Club discriminated against trans worker, says EEOC

EEOC finds "reasonable cause to believe" trans employee's Title VII rights were violated

Sam’s Club in Maplewood, Mo. – Photo: Caldorwards4, via Wikimedia.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that Sam’s Club, a subsidiary of retail giant Walmart, discriminated against a transgender woman by demoting her after she complained about on-the-job harassment.

The EEOC also found that the company discriminated against the employee by denying her access to medically necessary transition-related health care.

Jessica Shyne Robison, a longtime employee at Sam’s Club stores in Tampa and Bradenton, Fla., was rewarded with promotions, but soon subjected to harassment at the hands of a supervisor after she began transitioning. After she filed a complaint, she was disciplined and demoted.

Additionally, when she tried to obtain insurance coverage to help cover transition-related expenses, she was prevented from doing so because of parent company Walmart’s health care policy. The policy contained an exclusion — which was removed on Jan. 1, 2017 — that refused to provide coverage for any “transgender treatment/sex therapy,” even if it was deemed medically necessary by a physician.

On Tuesday, the EEOC published a letter of determination finding that the actions taken by Sam’s Club against Robison violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“[T]here is reasonable cause to believe that [Sam’s Club] has discriminated against [Robison] due to her sex (transgender status/gender identity) and retaliated against [Robison] for engaging in protected activity in that she was denied wages and promotion opportunities in violation of Title VII,” EEOC Director Evangeline Hawthorne wrote in the letter.”

Hawthorne also noted that Sam’s Club discriminated against Robison in denying her insurance coverage for “medically necessary” care, which — had she not been discriminated against due to her transgender status — would otherwise have been covered for any other employee.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which is representing Robison, issued a statement calling the EEOC’s findings “an important step on the path to finding justice for Ms. Robison.”

“No one should ever be targeted for discrimination on the basis of sex,” Jillian Weiss, the executive director of TLDEF, said. “The EEOC has put its weight behind Ms. Robison’s claims. We will continue our fight to get justice for Ms. Robison.”

As the parent company of Sam’s Club, Walmart issued a statement to NBC News saying that the company has a “strong anti-discrimination policy.”

“We support diversity and inclusion in our workforce and do not tolerate discrimination or retaliation of any kind,” the statement reads, also noting that the company’s updated health care policy now covers medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.

“While we disagree with the EEOC’s findings, we have attempted to resolve this issue with Ms. Robison and remain open to further discussions,” the statement concludes.

The EEOC has long maintained that Title VII’s prohibitions on sex discrimination apply to people who are discriminated against because of their gender identity, as well as those discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Since 2012, the EEOC has found — and some federal courts have agreed — that discrimination on the basis of gender identity because of failure to conform to gender stereotypes may constitute discrimination under Title VII.

The EEOC is currently backing a lawsuit filed by a now-deceased skydiver against his former employer that alleges they violated his civil rights when they fired him because of his sexual orientation. That case is currently before the full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the EEOC finds itself on the opposite side of the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, which argues in an amicus brief that Title VII’s prohibitions on sex discrimination were never intended to cover instances of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com