The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Monday against Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the Regional University System of Oklahoma for allegedly discriminating against a transgender employee in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The lawsuit alleges the university discriminated against Rachel Tudor, an assistant professor hired by the university in 2004 while presenting as a man, when they rejected her application for the tenured position of associated professor in 2009 — two years after she transitioned — despite recommendations from her department chair and other tenured faculty within her department. According to the complaint, Southeastern Oklahoma State University only denied her application for a promotion due to her gender identity, gender transition and non-conformance with gender stereotypes in violation of federal law. In retaliation after learning Tudor had filed complaints against the university, Southeastern refused to let Tudor reapply for a promotion and tenure and, at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, the university and university system terminated her employment because she had not obtained tenure.
The lawsuit marks the first time the Justice Department has sued alleging discrimination against a transgender person in violation of existing civil rights laws. In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the department would begin taking the position in litigation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting sex discrimination extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity. That decision came after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) 2012 ruling in Macy v. Holder that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is discrimination on the basis of sex.
Tudor originally filed a complaint alleging discrimination with the EEOC, which determined there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred. However, attempts to resolve the complaint were unsuccessful and the case was referred to the Justice Department.
“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,” Holder said in a statement. “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.”