The courts, the Department of Justice, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hold differing views on whether Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity. Nevertheless, this Monday an Oklahoma City federal court jury awarded a transgender plaintiff $1,165,000 on her claims of discrimination and retaliation.
Professor Tudor’s claims
When Rachel Tudor was first hired as a professor in 2004 by Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SEOSU), she presented as a man. In 2007, Tudor began transitioning to a woman. While working at SEOSU, Tudor complained that she was subjected to various insults, restrictions on which restrooms she could use, and restrictions on her makeup and clothing.
In 2009, Professor Tudor applied for a tenured position of associate professor. Although the faculty committee recommended she receive tenure, her application was ultimately rejected by SEOSU’s administration. At the time, the university did not have a policy addressing sexual orientation discrimination or harassment. In 2010, she filed a grievance and complained to the U.S. Department of Education about discrimination and the hostilities she had experienced during the 2009- 2010 tenure process.
During the 2010 – 2011 academic year, SEOSU denied Professor Tudor the opportunity to reapply for tenure. Ultimately, the university terminated her employment.
Tudor’s lawsuit and the jury’s verdict
Professor Tudor filed a Title VII lawsuit in federal court against SEOSU claiming discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment based upon her transgender status. The university’s multiple efforts to have her claims dismissed were unsuccessful, and an Oklahoma City jury heard Tudor’s claims this month. While finding in favor of SEOSU on the hostile work environment claim, the jury awarded Tudor $1,165,000, finding the university had discriminated against her by denying tenure and had retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination.
What to make of this
Although employment law protections based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity are currently the source of some debate, employers should be proactive and promptly address instances of discrimination or harassment based on an employee’s sexual orientation or sexual identity. At the end of the day, workplaces that value respect and professionalism will be more successful, more rewarding, and less likely to face legal challenges.
Tudor v. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, et al, CIV-15-324-C (W. Dist. Okla. 11/20/17)
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