EEOC prosecutes cutting-edge civil rights case to combat alleged hostile work environment for transgender employees

In Bostock v. Clayton County, the United States Supreme Court ruled that disparate treatment of employees because of their transgender status or sexual orientation violates the Title VII prohibition against discrimination because of sex. In the wake of that landmark decision in 2020, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) now aggressively prosecutes harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims involving disparate treatment of employees based on sexual orientation or transgender status. The EEOC also has issued agency guidance to employers and employees alike in a further effort to eradicate such disparate treatment from the workplace.

In a recently filed hostile work environment case, EEOC v. T.C. Wheelers, Inc., the EEOC asserts that the employer subjected a transgender employee to harassment by, for example, repeatedly misgendering them, asking invasive questions about their body, and encouraging other employees and even customers to behave similarly. The EEOC’s case states the disparate treatment became so severe that the employer constructively discharged the employee. The EEOC seeks compensatory damages – including emotional distress damages – and punitive damages for the affected employee as well as injunctive relief to remedy and prevent gender-based disparate treatment.

Importantly, the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) has prohibited disparate treatment based on sexual orientation for decades – long before the United States Supreme Court interpreted the MHRA’s equivalent under Federal law, Title VII, to include that prohibition. In fact, the MHRA is one of the first laws in the nation to provide civil rights protection based on sexual orientation. Like the EEOC, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is taking a more aggressive approach to investigating and pursuing these types of civil rights claims now.