East Tennessee transgender trucker fired for 'impersonating a female'

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a sex discrimination lawsuit on June 18 against Old Dominion Freight Lines for illegally firing a truck driver for impersonating a female after she informed the company that she was transitioning from male to female. A prior EEOC investigation into the firing sided with the driver, Kaylee Seals, finding there was reasonable cause to believe that Old Dominion discriminated against Seals based on sex and sex stereotyping.

"Getting fired was one of the worst things that ever happened to me," said Kaylee Seals. "I was always taught that you should be judged based on how hard you work. I gave my all to Old Dominion, working extremely long hours under very difficult conditions. Yet none of that mattered when my bosses learned that I was transitioning."

Seals, 33, worked for Old Dominion for just over two years. During that time she was given several awards for her service and safe driving.

In November 2005, Seals, who was still living and dressing as a male, was sent from Morristown, TN, to Jacksonville, FL. While there, a manager at the company began harassing Seals because she had been given a voucher to stay in a motel rather than a company bunk house. According to the manager, male employees were supposed to stay in the bunk house. Although Seals was dressed in gender neutral clothing (sweat pants and a sweat shirt), the employee began aggressively questioning Seals about her sex and her appearance. Unaware that the bunk house was even still operational, Seals readily agreed to stay in the bunk house for the remaining night of her stay.

When she returned to Tennessee, Seals informed her immediate supervisor, whom she trusted, about the harassment she received and also mentioned that she was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and intended to complete the transition to the female sex.

Shortly after this conversation, Seals was summoned to a meeting with the supervisor and other managers at the company. At this meeting, an Old Dominion supervisor, noting Seals' "feminine voice" and the fact that Seals wore jewelry, accused Seals of imitating a woman in order to be able to stay in the motel. The supervisor then terminated Seals, claiming that Seals' actions violated company policy. The EEOC did not find this explanation credible since four other male employees also received motel vouchers at the Jacksonville location during the same time period and had not been disciplined.

"No one should be fired simply because she does not fit traditional gender roles," said Christine Sun, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "Fortunately, sex stereotyping discrimination is illegal and Old Dominion will now find itself defending this case in court."

Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, added, "Transgender employees need to be able to earn a living and support themselves just like everyone else. Through this lawsuit, I hope all employers learn that they should respect transgender employees, because if they don't, they can be held liable for illegal discrimination."

Seals took the firing especially hard. She became severely depressed and was house bound for three months. Through the help of a co-worker, she eventually sought legal help and made a complaint to the EEOC, which found that her claim had merit. According to government statistics, only five to six percent of EEOC investigations result in a finding that there was reasonable cause that discrimination occurred.

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Seals against Old Dominion for sex discrimination. In the complaint filed today, the ACLU charges that Old Dominion violated Title VII federal sex discrimination laws by terminating Seals on the basis of sex and sex stereotyping.

Seals has since found employment with another trucking line but is now earning significantly less. After living as a woman for more that a year, Seals is anxious to begin sexual reassignment surgery, but due to the loss of income, is unable to afford it.

The lawsuit, Seals v. Old Dominion Freight Lines, was filed in Federal District Court in Knoxville.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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