More than a year after the Supreme Court issued their controversial Hobby Lobby ruling, the privately held company found out this week that not every judge is on their side when they denied a woman who is transgender access to the woman’s restroom.
Megan Sommerville, who transitioned more than five years ago, had been forced by her employer, Hobby Lobby, to either use the men’s facility or face termination. She was also denied the use of the proper facilities when shopping there as a customer, as what happened in 2011 when she was put on written notice while using the women’s restroom off the clock.
Employed with Hobby Lobby since 1998 at the Aurora, Illinois location, she began her transition in 2010 and had legally changed her name to Meggan Renee when she was informed by store management that she would be unable to use the proper facilities until she undergo gender reassignment surgery, which would allow her to change her birth certificate.
In 2012, Sommerville file a formal complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and due to lack of evidence, it was dismissed, but later overturned. According to the complaint, Meggan’s supervisors informed her that another employee expressed “discomfort.” According to Judge William Borah, “A co-worker’s discomfort cannot justify discriminatory terms and conditions of employment,” he continued saying, “The prejudices of co-workers or customers are part of what the Act was meant to prevent.” Furthermore, Borah found that Hobby Lobby’s decision to build a unisex restroom for Sommerville’s use was an example of segregation and “perpetuates different treatment.”
In-other-words, the very ruling that Hobby Lobby sought under its 2014 Supreme Court ruling was now being used against them.
Sommerville told the Windy City Times, “Do I want to continue doing what I do? Yes,” Meggan said, “I enjoy it. Why should I quit? I’m good at what I do. I love what I do. If I quit, I give a right to any other company to discriminate against their employee in the hopes that they will quit so they will be done with them. No one should be forced to quit where they’re being harassed and discriminated against. This case is bigger than me.”
Judge Borah also concluded that Hobby Lobby’s offer to build Sommerville a unisex restroom was an example of separate but equal and it “perpetuates different treatment.” In his final ruling, Administrative Law Judge William J. Borah stated,
“Because she suffers from fibromyalgia, she has an increased need to use the restroom, but her only choices were to use the male restroom, or wait up to six hours for a lunch break that allowed her to use the restroom at a nearby fast-food restaurant. When she tried to use the women’s room once in 2011 as a customer — she was off the clock — she received a written warning. Eventually, in 2014, Hobby Lobby constructed a separate gender-neutral single-use restroom, which is still the only restroom Sommerville is allowed to use.
Hobby Lobby continually moved the goal post as to what Sommerville would have to provide in order to be allowed access to the women’s room. At first, she was told she had to present legal authority of her gender change, so she gave them a copy of her court-ordered name change, her changed driver’s license, her changed social security card, a written medical explanation and verification of her transition from her health provider, and a copy of the Illinois Human Rights Act, which protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Then, that wasn’t good enough. Hobby Lobby then required proof that she had undergone surgery on her genitals. In 2014, it changed again to changing her birth certificate; Illinois currently requires citizens to undergo some form of surgery in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.”
The decision which was made in May but revealed only this week doesn’t change anything for Sommerville and although the judge’s order was a recommended ruling and she is still required to use the men’s restroom, this is certainly a positive movement towards transgender equality.
Originally Published on PlanetTransgender 10/10/15