Lakeland woman part of historic transgender civil rights lawsuit
Here is the coverage from Tampa Bay's Fox 13.
FOX 13 News
LAKELAND (FOX 13) - A Lakeland woman is filing an historic lawsuit, saying she was wrongly fired after her employer found out she was transitioning from male to female.
It's the first time the federal government is suing on behalf of a transgender person who says their civil rights were violated in the workplace.
Brandi Branson is one of the plaintiffs. She used to fit people for hearing aids, and she loved it. "It was really a heartfelt thing, to be able to assist people to have a higher quality of life," Branson said of her job. In July of 2010, her name was "Michael." Michael was hired by Dr. Kevin Dorsett's Lakeland Eye Clinic to be his first director of hearing services. The next February, she took the name “Brandi” and started showing up for work in women's clothing and makeup. "I would get the snickers and rolled eyes," she said. She says her boss confronted her and patient referrals stopped coming.
Within two months, she says she was told her position was being eliminated.
"The emotional impact was deep, because I was a veteran at doing what I did, worked at this for over 30 years, and suddenly I was found to be useless,"
Branson said. Weeks later, she says they hired someone new for the same job. Attorney Jillian Weiss agreed to go after Lakeland Eye Clinic.
"Transgendered people have been hidden from public consciousness because of prejudice,"
Weiss said. Weiss says the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed to make Brandi's one of two cases filed this month on behalf of transgendered people who were fired.
“They have been seen as strangers to the law, often being without the legal protection the rest of us take for granted,"
Weiss said. The 1964 Civil Rights Act bars gender discrimination. Weiss says that includes transgendered people. Branson says she is being so public about something so personal, to stop this from happening to someone else.
"I have had to deal with things I never dreamed of,"
"Whether or not somebody determines I am a hero or not is up to them. I am doing what I think is the right thing to do."
She is suing for unspecified damages, but hopes it includes any back and future pay. Lakeland Eye Clinic declined an opportunity to comment.