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Transgender trucker sues for job discrimination

by Nick Langewis

Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 33-year-old transwoman Kaylee Seals filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer on Thursday, alleging discrimination and retaliation due to her gender expression.

Seals v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. will be heard by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville. The complaint charges that Old Dominion violated Ms. Seals' rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by effectively firing her based on sex and sex stereotyping. It also accuses the company of retaliating against Seals by giving negative job references to prospective employers after she was no longer with the company. Seals seeks back pay, reinstatement, and damages for emotional distress, along with the requirement that Old Dominion train employees against sex-based discrimination.

"No one should be fired simply because she does not fit traditional gender roles," said senior ACLU staff attorney Christine Sun.

"I was always taught that you should be judged based on how hard you work," Ms. Seals added. "I gave my all to Old Dominion, working extremely long hours under very difficult conditions. Yet none of that mattered when my bosses learned that I was transitioning."

Seals worked as a line-haul driver for Old Dominion for about 2 years, during which time she had received several commendations for job performance and safe driving. One particular incident in November of 2005, while Seals was presenting as male, ultimately led to her leaving the company: A manager at a remote office began an "aggressive" line of questioning over Seals' gender and appearance, in front of other employees, stemming from a disagreement over gender-specific assigned sleeping arrangements. Seals, having been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, informed a supervisor back at her home office in Tennessee of the exchange and her plans to transition to female full-time, having at that time been taking hormones for about seven months.

On December 12, 2005, Seals was called into a meeting with her direct supervisor and two high-level managers who accused her of defrauding the company out of motel vouchers rather than staying in a company bunkhouse as a man, which company policy dictates, despite the fact that, as the EEOC would later discover, other male employees were given motel vouchers without being questioned about their gender. She was given the option to take an "extended leave of absence" until her gender transition was complete or be immediately terminated and subsequently blackballed.

According to the complaint, Seals, under duress, chose the "extended leave."

Seals fell into a depression, eventually filing an EEOC complaint and seeking legal help with the help of a coworker. The EEOC found that her discrimination claim had merit, a determination which is only made in about 5-6% of its investigation; Seals v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. comes after an EEOC "Notice of Right to Sue."

"Transgender employees need to be able to earn a living and support themselves just like everyone else," said Transgender Political Coalition president Marisa Richmond. "Through this lawsuit, I hope all employers learn that they should respect transgender employees, because if they don't, they can be held liable for illegal discrimination."







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Originally published on Thursday June 19, 2008.


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