Sam’s Club, a subsidiary of Walmart, was found to have violated anti-discrimination laws after an employee came out as transgender.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal anti-discrimination laws, ruled that Sam’s Club violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Jessica Shyne Robison after she informed her manager she would begin the process of transition. The EEOC’s letter of determination found that Sam’s Club retaliated against her for engaging in a protected activity by harassing Robison and subjecting her to adverse terms and conditions of employment including taking disciplinary action, forcing a demotion and creating a hostile working environment.
Robison was also denied medical coverage based on the fact that she was transgender and the ruling found that Walmart’s health care policy “categorically excluded coverage of any services for ‘transgender treatment/sex therapy” denying (Robison) medically necessary care that would have been covered if not for her transgender status,” up until the end of 2016. Walmart has since removed the transgender healthcare exclusion as of January 1st 2017, and is currently ranked with a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
Pre-transition, Robison was seen as a model employee who had received several promotions within the organization. Ms. Robison was an exemplary manager, who was singled out by Sam’s Club simply for being a woman,” said Jillian Weiss, Executive Director of Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), who was assisting Robison with her case. “The ruling sends a strong message. No one should ever be targeted for discrimination on the basis of sex. The EEOC has put its weight behind Ms. Robison’s claims. We will continue our fight to get justice for Ms. Robison.” The ruling will now allow a process of conciliation where both parties can attempt to reach a settlement agreement; otherwise Robison has the right to seek damages in court.
The ruling has created debate whether the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) should implement stricter policies with regards to their Corporate Equality Index. The index is used to rate companies based on their policies and actions towards the LGBTQ+ community. Though many companies are beginning to adopt transgender inclusive policies at a corporate level, employees have not seen the best results in the workspace.