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ACLU sues state Human Rights Commission for transgender man's case

ACLU sues state Human Rights Commission for transgender man's case

September 4th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

The ACLU of Missouri said Tuesday the Missouri Commission on Human Rights has the authority to investigate the complaint of a transgender man and wants the Cole County Circuit Court to tell the commission to reopen and pursue its investigation.

Neither the commission nor the attorney general's office responded to a request to comment on this story.

Chris Lawson, of Eldon, asked the Human Rights Commission in May 2015 to look into his claim that Dollar General had discriminated against him on the basis of sex and sex-stereotyping during the nearly two months in 2015 that Lawson worked at Dollar General's Fulton distribution center.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU says Lawson is a transgender man who "alleged that Dollar General treated similarly situated coworkers differently than he was treated and created a hostile work environment because of his sex and because his employer did not believe that he exhibited the stereotypical attributes of how a male should appear."

The ACLU lawsuit says Lawson asked his employer "to refer to him with male pronouns and requested access to the male restroom" — but was told by the human resources department "that the department had been instructed by corporate not to use either male or female pronouns when referring to Lawson" — and that he "could not use the male restroom, and would receive a written reprimand if he did so."

The lawsuit says Lawson was told he "could use the female single-stall restroom in the human resources department, or any female restroom in the warehouse, but he could not use any male restrooms."

And, the ACLU says in its lawsuit: "No other male or female coworker was banned from using the restroom associated with their sex nor had any other coworker been told that the gender-specific pronoun of their preference would not be used."

Last month, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Alisa Warren notified Lawson and Dollar General that its investigation into Lawson's complaint was being closed because the commission "lacks jurisdiction over this matter because sexual orientation is not protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act."

The ACLU counters in its lawsuit: "The decision is based on the erroneous application of law to facts."

So the ACLU asked the court to order the commission to reopen its investigation and to pay for Lawson's attorney fees.

In a news release, the ACLU noted it won a similar case in 2007.

"In Fenner v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, the Cole County Circuit found that MCHR was wrong in closing the sex-based discrimination charge that Meghan Fenner, a trans woman, filed against her employer," according to the ACLU news release.

Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri's executive director, said in the news release: "The core dignity of transgender and gender non-conforming people across Missouri must be respected and protected. Our constitutional rights are designed to make sure the laws are inclusive for everyone, so all Missourians can to live and thrive. The ACLU will continue to defend the principles of equality under the law."

The case had not been assigned to a judge Tuesday evening, and no hearings had been scheduled yet.