In a Groundbreaking Move the DOJ Sues on Behalf of a Trans Professor

The Department of Justice has announced that it is suing Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the university district for discriminating against a professor who came out as trans, something the federal government says is a direct violation of federal sex discrimination protections.

Dr. Rachel Tudor was hired by Southeastern Oklahoma State University as a tenure track professor back in 2004 and taught in the university’s English department. At the time of application, her gender presentation was male. In 2007, Tudor announced to colleagues that she would be transitioning and would therefore begin wearing female clothes and alter her appearance to bring it in line with her true gender identity — and this, the suit claims, is where Tudor’s troubles began.

The suit alleges that a human resource staffer called Tudor to warn her that the school’s vice president for academic affairs, Douglas McMillan, had allegedly asked whether Tudor might be fired because her “transgender lifestyle” was offensive to him and his religious beliefs. The suit also says that the university’s counseling center director, and sister to Douglas McMillan, Jane McMillan, also told Tudor that she might encounter problems and that, according to the suit, Douglas McMillan considered being transgender offensive.

Despite this, Tudor maintained an excellent performance record and in 2009, duly applied for tenure, but unlike a male colleague who was given feedback on his application, was summarily denied by the Southeastern administration without reason or help to understand how she might improve her chances. This was also despite the fact that her department chair and other tenured faculty from her department had supported her application — indeed, this was the first time the university had denied tenure to an English professor who had been recommended by a department chair.

In 2010, Tudor decided to file a complaint regarding this denial of promotion and tenure. The suit then alleges that after Southeastern learned of Tudor’s complaint, it refused to let her re-apply for promotion and tenure, something which is in direct violation of its own policies. Despite this, Tudor went on to receive the Faculty Senate Recognition Award for Excellence in Scholarship for the 2010-2011 academic year, but the suit says that because she had failed to achieve tenure she was then fired in May of 2011.

Tudor, believing she had reasonable evidence to prove she had been discriminated against on grounds of her gender identity and expression, filed a discrimination claim with the Oklahoma City Area Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), saying that the denial of tenure and subsequent firing was unlawful. The EEOC investigated the claim and found that there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred. The EEOC then attempted to mediate a resolution with the university, but was unsuccessful. As a result, the agency has now referred the complaint to the Department of Justice.

“By standing beside Dr. Tudor, the Department of Justice sends a clear message that we are committed to eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity,” Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted as saying in a statement: “We will not allow unfair biases and unjust prejudices to prevent transgender Americans from reaching their full potential as workers and as citizens. And we will continue to work tirelessly, using every legal tool available, to ensure that transgender individuals are guaranteed the rights and protections that all Americans deserve.”

The lawsuit claims that the university and district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because Southeastern allegedly discriminated against Tudor on grounds of her sex, and then retaliated against her for reporting discrimination by blocking her reapplication for tenure and firing her. This suit is significant not just for Tudor, but will be of interest for all LGBT rights advocates. This is among a handful of cases that the Department of Justice has taken up since making it explicitly clear in December of 2014 that gender identity and expression are, by its interpretation of the law, covered under Title VII.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, including transgender Americans,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “Discrimination against employees because of their gender identity, gender transition, or because they do not conform to stereotypical notions about how men and women should act or appear violates Title VII.  Retaliating against an employee for complaining about unlawful discrimination, as happened in this case, is also unacceptable under Title VII.”

Southeastern President Sean Burrage, who was not president at the time of the complaint, has affirmed that the university does not discriminate, but that it will not be commenting on ongoing legal proceedings: “Southeastern Oklahoma State University is committed to diversity and equal employment opportunities.  The University is confident in its legal position and its adherence to all applicable employment laws; however, due to the litigation, Southeastern has been advised by the Attorney General’s Office not to discuss any specifics concerning this matter. We will allow the legal system to run its course, while we direct our focus and energy on our top priority, that of educating our students.’’

The suit seeks damages for Tudor and injunctive relief forbidding Southeastern from denying Tudor and other applicants job opportunities on grounds of their gender identity.

If this case is successful, it will obviously be a significant win for the trans community who face high levels of job discrimination, denial of services and housing, due to most states not offering basic civil rights protections. However, and as we’ve discussed before, Title VII protections for trans people aren’t a settled legal standard and, without a definitive Supreme Court ruling, the courts seem conflicted on whether Title VII can apply. That said, the DOJ’s strong leadership on this matter goes some way to helping that standard, so this is positive news. It does not however negate the need for state level and federal protections that explicitly protect LGBT rights. Only with this kind of legislation in place can it be made expressly clear that discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is unlawful and hopefully stamp out the kind of behavior alleged in this suit.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

35 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Mark Vaughan
Mark Vaughan3 years ago

"I fired you because my invisible friend doesn't like you." The thing that gets me in this case is that the Dean is quite sure that G*d is on his side. It is amazing to me how often G*d sides with bullies. The fact is, the Bible doesn't say one word about transsexuals, inasmuch as the concept did not exist back then, any more than did the concept of "homosexuality". There was sex, and a man could have it with anything he could make hold still, whether that was his wife, a maid, a slave (of either gender) or the neighbor's son, or a goat. Now, if he raped the neighbor's daughter, he had to pay 50 shekels to her father, but rape didn't appear to "spoil" boys. In fairness, the Bible does try to protect the goat. I suspect Transsexuals probably lived as the gender they appeared to be, and were miserable. We have come a long way. We now have a pigeon-hole system for how to categorize people we hate.

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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pam w.
pam w3 years ago

Darryll says "tell me how a non- Christian can lead a Christian fraternity AND WHERE is the dept. of justice for them or how about Christians that are not allowed to carry their own bible on school grounds as it violates other students rights or Christian companies who do not support same sex marriage, yet are forced to supply them EVEN if it goes against their religious BELIEFS, where is the dept. of justice who "SUPPORTS CIVIL LIBERTIES FOR ALL"

I know it's Easter, Darryll....but.....climb off the cross! Do you HONESTLY hear of Christians being refused jobs, service in restaurants, bakeries, etc....do you hear of Christians being denied equal rights to public bathrooms? NO, YOU DO NOT! The issue in a multi-cultural society is this...WE HAVE TO GET ALONG! This means that nobody sucks up to Christians.....many of us have no interest in your religion and refuse to fund it with tax dollars....you may NOT expect your religious beliefs to be given favoritism or special interest from anyone and you will NOT use your religious beliefs as a pathetic excuse to impose your bigotry on other groups!

What EXACTLY did your Jesus say about how to treat transgenderd individuals, Darryll? And what EXACTLY did he say about how to treat those of other beliefs? What did he say about public prayer? Hmmmm?

Get over it.

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Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy3 years ago

What has happened to the protection of single asexual women ......nothing.....we women who are not gay or etc. are constantly discriminated against. Where I live the manager has consistently discriminated against me and sicced three women on me since I have lived here....I am a senior...and I did not have it easy making my way in government or military jobs but I suffered it out without people knowing or my kids knowing that I would have wanted to go back to I was 19 and stay in the Navy and finish my training but I made a mistake of getting married and wanted to stay in the Navy and my husband would not allow it. I had to work my way decently up slowly...there was no fast track like younger women have it now. POX on the FBI.

And,the woman should be protected but the FBI is a bunch of asses and only protects its own .....

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Pamela Tracy
Pamela Tracy3 years ago

The FBI just wants to update its media presence. Far be it for them to protect animal parents from killer veterinarians.

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Darryll Green
Darryll Green3 years ago

Karen H. - So, when i went to school, I wasn't a Christian, big deal, for your information I do not hate anybody, I HAVE NEVER SAID ONE WORD OF HATE against anybody, nor have i said that they didn't deserve the rights that we do, WHAT I HAVE SAID is that it's against my religious beliefs to call same sex " marriage "- marriage, and i do have the right to not serve a same sex couple in the cerimony of" marriage ", NOTICE that I did not say to serve them AND NONE OF THESE companies that you and your type have litterally forced out of business HAS SAID THEY WILL REFUSE TO SERVE GAYS, THEY SAID THEY WILL NOT SERVE SAME SEX "marriage" A VERY BIG DIFFERENCE

Original Message:
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Hello,

Karen left a comment on the following article:

In a Groundbreaking Move the DOJ Sues on Behalf of a Trans Professor
Darryll G, you certainly hate LGBT, don’t you? Personally, I don’t care if a student carries a Bible on school property. I went to high school with a young lady who wanted to be a nun. She carried her Bible everywhere. Don’t you think that a non-Christian in a position of leadership in a Christian fraternity might learn a few things? Or do you think any non-Christian is not open to seeing the Light? Could be conversion potential. Change your wording and see how you feel about: “Atheist companies who do not support organized religion, yet are forced to hire Christians and allow them to take their holy days off...”



If you wish to

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Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

Darryll G, you certainly hate LGBT, don’t you? Personally, I don’t care if a student carries a Bible on school property. I went to high school with a young lady who wanted to be a nun. She carried her Bible everywhere.
Don’t you think that a non-Christian in a position of leadership in a Christian fraternity might learn a few things? Or do you think any non-Christian is not open to seeing the Light? Could be conversion potential.
Change your wording and see how you feel about: “Atheist companies who do not support organized religion, yet are forced to hire Christians and allow them to take their holy days off...”

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