Politics

A transgender man fired from GE Appliances in Louisville can sue for race and gender discrimination, according to a federal court ruling late last month.

China-based Qindao Haier Co., the owner of GE Appliances, requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, saying the company did nothing wrong and that the employee should have reported harassment to a supervisor.

But U.S. District Court Judge Joseph McKinley said Mykel Mickens could sue under state and federal civil rights laws.

“[W]hat is clear is that the plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges facts to support discrimination or disparate treatment claims based upon race and gender nonconformity or sex stereotyping,” McKinley wrote in the opinion.

Mickens also alleged the company violated Louisville’s fairness ordinance and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, but the judge dismissed those claims. According to court documents, Mickens was fired in June for “attendance issues” after working for nearly two years at the company.

Mickens alleges that colleagues harassed him and he was fired for not conforming to gender stereotypes. He claims he was forbidden from using the men’s bathroom and had to use one farther away from his work station, contributing to attendance issues.

Haier says Mickens’ account doesn’t show that conditions at the company were “severe or pervasive” enough to create an abusive work environment.

“The Plaintiff failed to notify Haier about any type of alleged illegal activity, policy, practice, and further failed to give Haier a reasonable opportunity to correct the activity, policy, or practice,” Haier said in a response to Mickens’ complaint.

“The Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the fact that Haier maintained at all relevant times a written policy prohibiting unlawful harassment. This policy provided multiple specific avenues for employees to report alleged harassment; the Plaintiff knew or should have known of this policy and reporting procedure and failed to reasonably utilize these remedies and promptly report the alleged harassment to Haier.”

The case explores the extent to which the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination based on gender identity in addition to sex.

A handful of federal appeals courts, including the 6th Circuit that has jurisdiction over Kentucky, ruled that transgender workers can use Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to sue employers if they feel they’ve been discriminated against for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

In a statement, GE Appliances/ Haier spokeswoman Kim Freeman said the company couldn’t comment on the lawsuit but that “GE Appliances embraces diversity and supports organizations like our LGBT group.”

Our employees are our most valuable asset. The Company is committed to a work environment where each employee is treated fairly and with respect, and where every employee is given an equal opportunity to succeed.

We are committed to creating, managing and valuing diversity in our workforce. This means we do not make employment-related decisions based on a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, veteran’s status, other characteristics protected by applicable law, and physical or mental disability, where we make reasonable accommodations when appropriate.

We also are committed to ensuring that our workplace is free from harassment. Harassment includes any conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile work environment for another person. Harassment can take many forms, including physical actions, written or spoken comments, videos or pictures and innuendo. Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Harassment will not be tolerated.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to address transgender issues next year when it hears a case over federal transgender bathroom guidelines.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.