Deluxe Financial to Settle Sex Discrimination Suit on Behalf of Transgender Employee

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Company to Pay $115,000 and Change its Practices Following EEOC Lawsuit

PAUL, Minn. - Deluxe Financial Services Corp. (Deluxe), a Shoreview, Minn.-based check-printing and financial services corporation, has agreed to pay $115,000 as part of the settlement of a sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today, January 21, 2016.

According to EEOC's complaint, Britney Austin was assigned the male sex at birth and presented as male when hired by the company. Ms. Austin performed her duties satisfactorily in the com­pany's Phoenix offices throughout a lengthy tenure. However, after she informed her supervisor that she was transgender and began to present as a woman at work, Deluxe refused to let her use the women's restroom. According to the suit, supervisors and coworkers subjected Austin to a hostile work environment, including hurtful epithets and intentionally using the wrong gender pro­nouns to refer to her.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, including that based on transgender status and gender stereotyping. This includes subjecting an employee to different terms and conditions or a hostile work environment because of sex. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Deluxe Financial Services, Inc., No. 15-cv-02646-ADM-SER) in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit sought both monetary and injunctive relief. The charging party, Britney Austin, intervened in the lawsuit and asserted additional claims.

In addition to requiring that Deluxe pay monetary damages to Ms. Austin, a three-year consent decree provides that Deluxe will issue a letter of apology to Ms. Austin and a letter of reference for future employers. The consent decree also provides that, as of January 1, 2016, Deluxe's national health benefits plan will not include any partial or categorical exclusion for otherwise medically necessary care based on transgender status.

The consent decree also provides that Deluxe will revise its equal employment opportunity policies to include a strong and clear commitment to preventing unlawful sex discrimination and harassment, including discrimination and harassment based on transgender status. It will also provide additional annual training for all employees that unlawful sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sex-stereotyping, gender-identity, and transgender status. Deluxe will provide annual reports to EEOC regarding its implementation of these and other terms of the consent decree. 

"This settlement underscores EEOC's commitment to securing the rights of transgender individuals under Title VII in the federal courts," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This is our second such resolution and we hope that employers will take notice and begin to take proactive steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination against their transgender workers."

This is the third lawsuit filed by EEOC alleging discrimination on the basis of transgender status. In April, 2015, a Florida eye clinic paid $150,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit seeking relief for an employee who had been transitioning from male to female. EEOC also filed suit seeking relief for an employee of a Detroit area funeral home fired for transitioning from male to female, which is still pending.

EEOC's work on sex discrimination on the basis of transgender status and sex stereotyping goes back to 2012 when the Commission issued an opinion in Macy v. Dep't of Justice, in its federal sector enforcement where the same laws apply but EEOC has appellate authority. EEOC ruled that employment discrimination against employees because they are transgender is sex discrimination that violates Title VII. In Lusardi v. McHugh, the Commission ruled that denying employees use of a restroom consistent with their gender identity and subjecting them to intentional use of the wrong gender pronouns constitutes discrimination because of sex, and thus violates Title VII.

EEOC Regional Attorney Mary O'Neill said, "Transgender employees and applicants report alarming levels of mistreatment and harassment in the workplace based on their gender identity. We believe this lawsuit and the significant relief obtained in this settlement demonstrate to all employers that EEOC stands ready to enforce the rights of transgender individuals. We are very appreciative of Deluxe's efforts in reaching this resolution. Deluxe came to the table not only to address its past treatment of Ms. Austin, but also to ensure that its transgender employees will be treated with respect and dignity in the future."

Acting District Director Elizabeth Cadle added, "EEOC considers protecting transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees to be a strategic enforcement priority. We will continue to assure that transgender employees receive the full benefit of federal anti-discrimination laws in all industries."

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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