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SPLC, allies file suit against Louisiana company for unlawfully firing transgender man

Tristan Broussard’s employer, a national, Mississippi-based finance company, demanded that he dress and be treated as a woman. The transgender man refused and was fired.

Tristan Broussard’s employer, a national, Mississippi-based finance company, demanded that he dress and be treated as a woman. The transgender man refused and was fired.

Today, the SPLC and other civil rights advocates filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Broussard’s former employer, Tower Loan.

“I was well qualified to do my job but was fired solely because of my gender,” Broussard said. “Rather than being treated like any other male employee, my employer told me I would be fired unless I dressed and acted as if I were female. The treatment I went through was inexcusable. It was wrong to be fired for who I am.”

Broussard, 21, was hired by Tower Loan as a manager trainee in the company’s Lake Charles, Louisiana, branch in February 2014. After he started the job, company officials learned that he is transgender and asked him to sign a document stating that his “preference to act and dress as male” was not “in compliance with Tower Loan’s personnel policies,” according to the complaint. He refused and was fired.  

Tower Loan is a privately owned company with 180 locations in five states.

See a video of Broussard telling his story.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleges that Tower Loan violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the federal law that protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Courts nationwide have repeatedly recognized that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination protects transgender workers.

“Transgender people are due a fair chance at employment like anyone else,” said SPLC staff attorney Sam Wolfe. “But the transgender community faces unacceptably high rates of unemployment and poverty due to widespread workplace discrimination.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the primary agency charged by Congress with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, has made clear that employers cannot fire or refuse to hire someone solely because they are transgender. Broussard earlier lodged a complaint with the EEOC, which concluded Tower Loan’s action violated Title VII.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), San Francisco-based Altshuler Berzon LLP and New Orleans-based Delaney & Robb Attorneys at Law LLC are co-counsel in the case, along with the SPLC.

“No one should have to face employment discrimination or the fear of being fired simply because of their gender,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Amy Whelan. “That is what the case is about.”

The suit seeks financial damages and a permanent injunction to prohibit Tower Loan from engaging in unlawful sex discrimination, including that  based on gender identity, against employees or applicants.

In recent months, both the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Justice have filed lawsuits on behalf of transgender employees who have been discriminated against by their employers. In December, the DOJ announced a new legal stance that the protection of Title VII or f the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination claims based on gender identity, including transgender status.

The DOJ sued the Southeastern Oklahoma State University in March alleging that the university violated Title VII by discriminating against a transgender employee. The EEOC filed two lawsuits in late 2014 on behalf of transgender women who were unlawfully fired by an eye clinic in Florida and a funeral home in Michigan.