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Clinic Accused of Transgender Bias

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Lakeland eye clinic and Michigan funeral home on Thursday became the subject of the first federal lawsuits to protect transgender people in the workplace, accused of illegally firing employees who were making a transition to female.

Lakeland Eye Clinic and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes of Garden City, Michigan, violated federal law by discriminating based on gender stereotypes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. It's the first time the agency has sued claiming discrimination against people who are transgender.

Brandi Branson was fired in 2011 as director of hearing services at Lakeland Eye in Florida after saying she was undergoing a gender transition to female, the agency said.

"Branson began wearing feminine attire to work, including makeup and women's tailored clothing," according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tampa, Florida. "Branson observed that co-workers snickered, rolled their eyes and withdrew from social interactions with her."

Amiee Stephens, an embalmer and funeral director, was fired in 2013 after six years, after telling her boss she was transitioning from male to female, the EEOC said. The lawsuit against the funeral home was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Messages seeking comment from the Lakeland clinic and funeral home weren't immediately returned.

Federal law "prohibits employers from firing employees because they do not behave according to the employer's stereotypes of how men and women should act," said EEOC attorney Laurie Young.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, applauded the EEOC's actions.

"Transgender people continue to face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the workplace," legal director Sarah Warbelow said.