In ‘Precedent Setting’ Transgender Rights Case, Court Strikes Down Hobby Lobby Bathroom Policy
Hobby Lobby’s refusal to let a transgender female employee use the women’s bathroom violates Illinois anti-discrimination law, a state appeals court ruled. The case revolves around Meggan Sommerville, a trans woman who has worked at Hobby Lobby stores since 1998 and has been fighting over its bathroom policy since 2010.
Last week, the 2nd District Appellate Court of Illinois held that Hobby Lobby’s refusal to let Sommerville use the women’s bathroom violated the Illinois Human Rights Act—upholding an earlier decision by the Illinois Human Rights Commission and the Commission’s award of $220,000 in emotional distress damages.
“The Commission correctly found that Hobby Lobby violated the Act,” wrote Appellate Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok in an August 13 opinion joined by Justices Kathryn E. Zenoff and Ann B. Jorgensen. “There is simply no basis in the Act for treating the ‘status’ of being male or female as eternally fixed.”
“Indeed, it is worth noting that, although Hobby Lobby has advanced a variety of different meanings of ‘female’ over the course of this litigation, at different points suggesting that it would allow Sommerville to use the women’s bathroom if she could produce a birth certificate with a female sex marker or if she underwent genital surgery, none of these scenarios is impossible. Thus, even the restrictions on ‘female’ status advanced by Hobby Lobby are things that can be changed. Hobby Lobby’s argument that female status is somehow immutable is belied not only by the Act but also by its own conduct,” the justices added.
“This is a precedent setting case in Illinois, because the Human Rights Act has never been tested in this way in Illinois, and actually in the country,” Sommerville told Forbes.
The case “is one of first impression, meaning it is a case in which a legal issue has never before been decided by that governing jurisdiction,” Forbes explained. And it could have implications far beyond Illinois.
“This decision will have national implications and start the process of courts around the country addressing the issue of bathroom access,” suggested Sommerville’s lawyer Jacob Meister in Bloomberg.
Hobby Lobby—which was famously involved in a religious freedom suit concerning the Obamacare birth control mandate that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—did not invoke freedom of conscience arguments in this case. Rather, it argued “that its policy of regulating bathroom access based upon users’ ‘sex’—which, it contends, means their reproductive organs and structures—does not violate the [Illinois Human Rights] Act,” the judges noted.
Here’s more background, from their decision:
In 2007, Sommerville began transitioning from male to female. In 2009, she disclosed her female gender identity to some staff at Hobby Lobby, and began medical treatment that resulted in female secondary sex characteristics such as breasts and the absence of facial hair. In early 2010, she began to use her female name and appear at work in feminine dress and makeup, without objection from Hobby Lobby.
In July 2010, she obtained a court order legally changing her name to Meggan Renee Sommerville, and a new Illinois driver’s license and Social Security card, both of which showed her new name and identified her as female.
On July 9, 2010, Sommerville formally informed Hobby Lobby of her transition and her intent to begin using the women’s bathroom at the store. Hobby Lobby changed Sommerville’s personnel records and benefits information to reflect her female identity. However, Hobby Lobby refused to allow Sommerville to use the women’s bathroom at the store. Faced with an initial demand that she produce ‘legal authority’ requiring it to allow her to use the women’s bathroom, Sommerville provided Hobby Lobby with a variety of documentation including her driver’s license, Social Security card, and name change court order; a letter from her medical providers identifying her as a female transgender individual, describing the transition process, and urging that she be allowed to use the women’s bathroom; and a copy of the Act and similar statutes from Iowa and Colorado. However, Hobby Lobby continued to refuse to allow her to use the women’s bathroom.
Sommerville occasionally used the women’s bathroom at the store despite Hobby Lobby’s policy. However, Hobby Lobby assertively enforced its policy, ordering employees to report Sommerville if she tried to use the women’s bathroom. On F
Article from Latest – Reason.com