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Transgender woman has sued Hobby Lobby for denying her access to women’s restroom

Meggan Sommerville, a manager in Hobby Lobby’s Aurora, Illinois store, has filed a lawsuit against Hobby Lobby for gender identity discrimination because she claims that it will not permit her to use the women’s restroom.  For years, she says that her boss has insisted that she cannot use the women’s restroom because she is a transgender woman.  “Hobby Lobby’s taking the fairly absurd position that in order for Meggan to be able to use the female facilities, she has to undergo reconstructive surgery,” her attorney, Jacob Meister, explained.

Sommerville, who has worked for Hobby Lobby since 1998, transitioned from male to female in 2009 and legally changed her name the following year.  For purposes of her health benefits, provided by Hobby Lobby, she is classified as female.  But, when she used the women’s restroom at work, she received a written disciplinary warning.  It is unclear whether Hobby Lobby’s decision not to let Sommerville use the women’s restroom stems from its owners’ decision to run their business consistent with their religious beliefs.

“I’m just looking to be treated equally with every other female in the company—not just in the store, but in the company,” Sommerville said.  “If they recognize me as female for certain things, why can’t they recognize me as female for everything?”

As a result of Hobby Lobby’s allegedly discriminatory treatment, she has had to use a restroom outside of the store where she works or use the male restroom in the store.  While using the male restroom, she has had to hide or wait around outside of it in order to avoid encounters with men using the restroom.

Transgender people are often harassed when they use public restrooms.  A recent survey of transgender people in Washington, D.C.–which has a large LGBT population and anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people– found that 68% of them had been verbally harassed at least once when they used a public restroom.  And almost 10% of them had been physically assaulted for using a public restroom.

Maine, like Illinois, prohibits employment discrimination based on gender identity.  Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that schools must permit transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identities but it has not addressed the issue in the context of the workplace.