The Illinois Second District Appellate Court has ruled,
“Sommerville’s sex is unquestionably female, just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom.”
The judges unanimously came to the decision that Hobby Lobby violated the law by denying a trans female employee access to its women’s bathroom –in the store where she has worked for nearly 23 years.
At 51, this battle has gone on for the last 11 years of Meggan Sommerville‘s life.
She told Forbes‘ Dawn Ennis,
“They stuck to the law.
I think that, to me, was as much of a victory as anything else; That the law in Illinois is so clear that even conservative judges couldn’t go any other way with it.”
“This is a precedent setting case in Illinois, because the Human Rights Act has never been tested in this way in Illinois, and actually in the country.”
According to her lawyer, the decision applies statewide to every transgender individual and every public bathroom, not just the Hobby Lobby in East Aurora, Ill.
Attorney Jacob Meister, working with Katie Chisty, said,
“It is so broad, sweeping, when you read through it
The court basically says this was not just transgender discrimination, it was sex discrimination, which is what federal courts have found. What this court said is, as a matter of Illinois law, Meggan’s sex is female.
She not only has a female gender identity, but as a matter of Illinois law, her sex is female.”
Hobby Lobby unsuccessfully claimed Sommerville, who came out in 2009 and transitioned at work in 2010, could simply use the unisex bathroom it installed in 2013. The company also argued that she could use the ladies room if she underwent gender affirming surgery and if she changed her birth certificate.
Lawyers for Hobby Lobby claimed that by blocking her access to the ladies room, the store was protecting women. The appellate court rejected all of these claims.
Here are the four key findings by Appellate Court Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok, who was joined unanimously by fellow Appellate Court Justices Kathryn E. Zenoff and Ann B. Jorgensen—three white, cisgender, heterosexual, conservative women in their 60s and 70s;
- “The only reason that Sommerville is barred from using the women’s bathroom is that she is a transgender woman, unlike the other women (at least, as far as Hobby Lobby knows).”
- “Hobby Lobby argues that it was simply acting as a reasonable employer and enforcing its rules about separate bathrooms by keeping a male out of the women’s bathroom, but Hobby Lobby itself recognizes that Sommerville is female. Hobby Lobby’s unlawful discrimination was not designating bathrooms by sex, but denying Sommerville access to the bathroom that matched her sex.”
- “The existence of the unisex bathroom is irrelevant to the main issue in this case, which is whether Hobby Lobby violated Sommerville’s civil rights in denying her, but not other women, access to the women’s bathroom. Hobby Lobby’s provision of a unisex bathroom available to all employees and customers cannot cure its unequal treatment of Sommerville with respect to the women’s bathroom.”
- “The final argument raised by Hobby Lobby regarding its bathroom ban—that it was necessary to protect other women from Sommerville—lacks support in either the record or logic… There is simply no evidence that Sommerville’s use of the women’s bathroom would pose a safety risk to other women… The presence of a transgender person in a bathroom poses no greater inherent risk to privacy or safety than that posed by anyone else who uses the bathroom.”
Sommerville has a medical condition, fibromyalgia, which results in more frequent usage of the restroom.
“Every time you go to the bathroom, sometimes it’s four or five times a day, I have to use the unisex bathroom.”
Meister said what these courts are now saying is that transgender people are entitled to the same civil rights protections as everyone else.
The right to human dignity is a civil right. It’s not a special right to have your dignity. To use the bathroom at work, without being humiliated and frightened and segregated, is a fundamental right
And that’s what we work every day to protect, these people’s right, to just feel safe, secure and welcome in all aspects of life.”
Meister, who is an out gay man, founded The Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit organization to take on these kinds of cases.
Meister applauded Sommerville saying,
“She’s been dedicated to bringing about change that has an impact on the transgender community and helped set the law.
So, she has had perseverance and a steadfastness to her dedication to bringing about change and making sure that there’s a good case law on the books for anyone else under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
After winning her case on Friday, Sommerville celebrated with Meister. The next day, she returned to work at Hobby Lobby.
(Photo, Meggan Sommerville, YouTube; via Forbes)