Metro Weekly

Missouri Human Rights Commission sued for dismissing transgender man’s discrimination complaint

Chris Lawson says that Dollar General discriminated against him based on sex stereotypes about what it means to be male

Missouri State Capitol building (Photo: Visitjeffersoncity, via Wikimedia Commons).

The ACLU of Missouri is suing the state’s Commission on Human Rights for refusing to investigate a transgender man’s complaint that he was discriminated against at his job.

Chris Lawson, of Eldon, Mo., initially filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in May 2015 claiming that his employers at Dollar General had discriminated against him on the basis of sex and sex stereotyping, reports the News Tribune.

Despite telling his employer that he preferred to be referred to using male pronouns, the human resources department told him that it had been instructed by the corporate office not to use either male or female pronouns when referring to Lawson.

He was also told that he would be barred from using the male restroom, and would receive a written reprimand if he did so. No other employee was subjected to similar treatment.

Last month, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Alisa Warren notified Lawson and Dollar General that the commission was closing its investigation into Lawson’s complaint because the commission “lacks jurisdiction over this matter because sexual orientation is not protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act.”

But the ACLU of Missouri, which is representing Lawson, has countered that their client never alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation, but on sex, which is covered by the Human Rights Act.

Case law throughout the United States has consistently held that sex stereotyping based on refusal to adhere to gender norms is a form of sex-based discrimination.

In its petition to the Cole County Circuit Court, the ACLU of Missouri says Lawson is alleging that “Dollar General treated similarly situated coworkers differently than he was treated and created a hostile work environment because of his sex and because his employer did not believe that he exhibited the stereotypical attributes of how a male should appear.”

The ACLU wants the court to order the Commission to reopen and actively pursue its investigation into Lawson’s complaint, saying its decision to dismiss the complaint “is based on the erroneous application of law to facts.”

The ACLU of Missouri previously won a similar case in 2007, when the Cole County Circuit Court found that the Commission on Human Rights had erred in dismissing a sex-based discrimination complaint lodged by a transgender woman against her employer.

“The core dignity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people across Missouri must be respected and protected,” Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Our constitutional rights are designed to make sure the laws are inclusive for everyone, so all Missourians can to live and thrive. The ACLU will continue to defend the principles of equality under the law.”

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

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