Metro Weekly

Judge: Transgender woman can sue for sex discrimination

Plaintiff claims her termination, based on her gender identity, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

The Old Post Office and Courthouse in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: General Services Administation, via Wikimedia Commons).

The Old Post Office and Courthouse in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: General Services Administation, via Wikimedia Commons).

In a promising sign of what may end up being progress on transgender rights, a U.S. district court judge rules on Tuesday that a transgender woman could pursue a lawsuit against her former employer for sex discrimination. 

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Patricia Dawson, claims that H&H Electric violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, when it fired Dawson for issues related to gender nonconformity. 

In the complaint, Dawson, a former apprentice and licensed electrician for H&H Electric for four years, claims that her work was highly regarded by supervisors and co-workers. But when she began transitioning as part of her treatment for gender dysphoria, her boss forced her to use her birth name, Steven, at work — even though she had legally changed her name to Patricia. Dawson was told not to discuss her gender transition with anybody at work. When she began wearing makeup and more feminine clothing to work, her boss fired her, claiming she was “too much of a distraction.”

H&H Electric had filed for summary judgment in the lawsuit, hoping the judge would rule in their favor and they could avoid going forward with a trial. But U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright of the Eastern District of Arkansas ruled that Dawson could move froward with her lawsuit claiming H&H Electric violated Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination as a result of her failure to conform to sex stereotypes. 

“The court today recognized that what Patricia Dawson faced was sex discrimination,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, an attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We are pleased that Patricia Dawson will be able to have her day in court to correct the injustice of being fired simply because of who she is.”

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

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