The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ordered the Department of the Army to pay damages to a transgender employee whom it barred from a restroom matching her new identity and referred to her by her previous gender.
In an April 1 ruling, the commission said the agency violated a federal sexual-discrimination law with its actions against Tamara Lusardi, a military veteran and civilian software specialist who transitioned from male to female.
The decision comes about six months after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel reached the same conclusion in a landmark case involving the same employee. The OSC, a federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, ordered the Army to provide sensitivity training but did not address monetary damages.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did not specify how much money the Army should pay to Lusardi, leaving the matter for the two parties to determine together.
The ruling also orders the department to provide discrimination training for all workers and supervisors in the office where the transgender employee works.
“From the start, this has been about getting a fair shake to work hard at a job I love,” Lusardi said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision makes it clear that, like everybody else in the workplace, transgender employees should be judged by the quality of the work we do, not by who we are.”
Army spokesman Wayne Hall said in a statement on Wednesday that the department will comply with this month’s ruling.
“The U.S. Army remains committed to the diverse make-up of our Army, and the Army Values where we pledge to treat others with dignity and respect,” Hall said. “That commitment is bolstered by repetitive training ensuring awareness is paramount throughout our formations.”
Lusardi, who served in the Army from 1986 to 1993, said the Army required her to use a single-person, gender-neutral restroom out of concerns that other employees might feel “uncomfortable” sharing a restroom with her.
She also alleged that management and co-workers called her “sir” and “it” after she began dressing as a woman and legally changed her name, driver’s license and security clearance.
The Army argued that it provided legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons for requiring the employee to use the single-user restroom and that management was supportive of her transition. But the commission determined that federal law prohibits the department’s actions.
“We recognize that certain employees may object – some vigorously – to allowing a transgender individual to use the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity,” the ruling said. “But supervisory or co-worker confusion or anxiety cannot justify discriminatory terms and conditions of employment.
Lusardi’s case was part of a broader push by the government to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in the federal workforce.
The Justice Department issued a memo in December recognizing that transgender individuals are protected from discrimination under federal law.
Additionally, President Obama signed an executive order last year banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors and the federal government. The directive, which officially took effect on Wednesday, prohibits firing or harassment of federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and it bans discrimination against transgender federal employees.
A recent study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force found that 90 percent of transgender individuals report mistreatment or discrimination in the workplace, forcing many to hide their gender identity.
* Emily Wax-Thibodeaux contributed to this report