April 10, 2015 / 11:45 PM / 4 years ago

Health clinic settles first transgender bias lawsuit by U.S. agency

(Reuters) - A Florida health clinic has agreed to pay $150,000 to a transgender former employee who claimed she was fired because she transitioned to a woman, in the first case of its kind brought by the U.S. government.

The settlement between Lakeland Eye Clinic and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the former employee, Brandi Branson, was approved late Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven in Tampa, Florida.

The case, along with a similar lawsuit by the EEOC against a Detroit funeral home, has been closely watched by companies and LGBT groups because it could help establish new legal protections for transgender workers.

The settlement came a week after the EEOC issued a decision ordering the U.S. Army to pay unspecified damages to a transgender civilian employee in Alabama who was required to use a unisex bathroom after she transitioned to a woman.

Lakeland also agreed to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination against transgender workers and provide training to employees.

An attorney for the clinic did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did the EEOC.

The commission claimed in the 2014 lawsuit that Lakeland hired Branson as its director of hearing services four years earlier when she still presented as a man. When she began dressing as a woman, the lawsuit says, she was harassed by coworkers and ultimately fired.

In the lawsuit in Detroit, the EEOC says a former funeral home director was fired when she told the owners she planned to transition to a woman. A U.S. judge is scheduled to hold a hearing next week on the funeral home’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Lakeland Eye Clinic, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, No. 8:14-cv-2421.

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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