Battle between transgender employee and Starwood heats up, for the people

By : Billy Manes
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Last year, Gina Versace filed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity lawsuit against her former employer, Starwood Hotels, in federal court. She alleges that she was discriminated against while under the company’s employ, the suit says, and was consistently referred to as a male, despite officially documented evidence otherwise. In 2013, Versace was fired for insubordination, according to the lawsuit and the Orlando Sentinel, though she (and her attorney) believe the motivations were more deeply seeded in discrimination. This morning, Versace’s new attorney, Matt Morgan (the son of high-profile attorney John Morgan) held a press conference at the Morgan & Morgan offices downtown to further state the case. While we were unable to attend (meetings!), the following accusations issued via press release could and should rattle Starwood, which publicly states that it prides itself on LGBT inclusion. We’ll have more on Versace’s story in the coming weeks.

Check out the press release outlining the case after the jump: 

Morgan & Morgan has recently agreed to represent a transgender employee in a ground-breaking employment discrimination claim against Starwood Hotels and Resorts, one of the largest hotels worldwide. The lawsuit is one of very few that Central Florida Courts have seen involving a transgender employee alleging sex discrimination under Title VII’s anti-sex discrimination laws.

Gina Versace, a worker who was born “male” but who identifies as a woman, has alleged that her employer, Starwood, discriminated against her based on her gender. A highlight of the many heinous allegations include:

  • Starwood failed to keep Ms. Versace’s gender transition confidential despite assurance that would it be kept confidential;
  • Versace’s immediate supervisor told her “you cannot work here” after becoming aware of her gender transformation;
  • Starwood’s managers, human resource representatives and Versace’s co-workers constantly mis-gendered Versace by referring to her as “he;”
  • Starwood failed to change her to female in many of her employee documents, leading to additional “he” references;
  • Starwood Improperly disciplined Ms. Versace for using a lavatory  consistent with her gender;
  • Starwood ultimately terminated Ms. Versace due to her gender and gender identity and in retaliation to her complaints.

Since 1964, federal law has protected all covered employees from discrimination on the basis of gender. As a society, we have to decide how we define “gender.” Is it just a collection of body parts? Or is it who we are, a part of our human essence? The Supreme Court just made the answer very clear in its ruling on same sex marriage. In fact, the Supreme Court addressed this issue in the employment context twenty-five years ago when it said that gender-stereotyping is illegal.  (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins) (1989).

The problem is, the majority of the lower courts have yet to grasp the concept of gender as something that transcends the physical body – especially when dealing with bigotry in the workplace. That’s why Gina Versace’s case is so important. She was harassed at work, called a “man”, and ultimately terminated, because she didn’t fit into her employer’s stereotype. That’s illegal.

We have to ask ourselves  – if we accept a definition of “gender” that is based solely on a person’s body parts, then what is stopping employers from firing men who are overweight or aren’t “aggressive enough” or  “tough enough?” What about women who are forced to undergo a mastectomy following a battle with breast cancer? Can they be terminated because they aren’t “woman enough” without their breasts?

This is the exact kind of conduct the law prohibits. When it comes to gender identity cases, most of the Courts are getting it wrong. We intend to change that.

We value hard work in this country and we need to do what it takes to ensure that all people have the ability to be productive members of society, not a burden on the taxpayers. That means protecting the right to work for everyone. No one should ever feel afraid to be who they are when they go to work, regardless of their physical appearance. The American workplace is not just a place for the prettiest girls or the strongest boys. It’s a place where everyone has an equal shot at the American dream.

If nothing else, Gina Versace hopes that her case will encourage other workers, regardless of their gender, to come forward and fight back against corporations who think they can fire people in violation of federal law.

*abstract image via the Orlando Sentinel

 

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