Posted by Melanie Nathan, September 01, 2015.
A transgender woman has filed a federal suit against Bloodworks Northwest, formerly known as Puget Sound Blood Center, a Seattle-based blood clinic, for terminating her employment on the basis of sex. The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, alleges that the clinic fired Stephanie Binschus from her position as a blood collection specialist in February of 2014 using the specious justification that she had falsified documentation in the clinic’s donor database by stating that she is female. She had worked at the clinic since October of 2013.
According to her complaint, Ms. Binschus had been a long-time blood donor at the Center. She completed her transition before her employment there, and her supervisors were aware that she had been issued a Washington State birth certificate that recognized her as female. Ms. Binschus’ job duties as a blood collection specialist included making entries on the donor database and she was permitted to change inaccurate entries to the database.
She noticed her own clinic donor record still designated her as male. After the clinic changed its policy to permit donors to self-identify at the first stage of the donor process, she updated her own record to correct the inaccuracy, and to accurately reflect her female status. Other employees had also made changes to their own database information without being terminated.
But immediately after she made the change, Binschus was singled out, subjected to a superficial investigation, in which she was not interviewed by her supervisors or human resources to find out her side of the story, and subsequently fired for “falsification of documentation.”
The lawsuit alleges that less than two months prior to her termination, Binschus’s supervisors had suggested that her transgender identity was too “controversial” to be welcome at the clinic. One supervisor advised that she was not allowed to have a transgender-focused college library book with her at work or pamphlets with “transgender information” because the supervisor considered them “controversial materials.” That same supervisor criticized Ms. Binschus for allowing her advocacy for transgender issues to interfere with her work or the workplace environment. Yet another supervisor referred to Ms. Binschus as “his/her” in an email at the time of her termination.
“It’s very clear that Bloodworks Northwest did not truly understand that Ms. Binschus is a woman,” said Jillian T. Weiss, Ms. Binschus’s attorney, who represents her along with J. Denise Diskin of Seattle’s Teller & Associates PLLC. “The anti-transgender office climate engendered by supervisors reveals that the clinic believed that Ms. Binschus’s statement that she is female was false.
The clinic terminated her on the basis of her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits unlawful sex discrimination. Sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of gender and gender identity.” Gender identity refers to characteristics related to a person’s internal sense of gender, being male, female, or other. It is generally accepted in the medical field that gender identity is intractably rooted in the psyche at a very young age, and cannot be changed. The State of Washington permits people to submit documentation from a physician to request recognition of their sex on a state birth certificate.
The lawsuit asks the court to rule that Bloodworks Northwest be directed to stop subjecting employees to sex discrimination (including on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression, gender transition, and sex stereotypes), institute new policies and train its employees, and compensate Ms. Binschus for the monetary damages she suffered, such as lost income.
“This case sends a very strong message: transgender employees should never face discrimination for being who they are.” Weiss said. “Bloodworks Northwest is a very important community organization with a very important mission — saving lives through blood donation. It is with great regret that we feel constrained to bring a lawsuit against a life-saving non-profit organization. Nonetheless, no one is above the law. Bloodworks Northwest violated Ms. Binschus’s federal civil rights by failing to respect her gender and firing her for saying she is female. It is time for the company to right this wrong and ensure this never happens to other transgender employees.”