US retailer Hobby Lobby has been fined for blocking a transgender woman employee from using its women’s bathroom for 11 years, following a court ruling that is a first for transgender people in the state.
The 51-year-old employee, Meggan Sommerville, had worked at the same Hobby Lobby location in Illinois for almost 23 years, but was barred from using the women’s bathroom after transitioning between 2007 and 2010, according to court filings.
She argued that Hobby Lobby had even acknowledged her transition and updated its records for her, but refused her request to access the women’s bathroom – in violation of Illinois state law and the Human Rights Act.
It added that she should have access to the women’s bathroom “just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom”.
Hobby Lobby, which has been ordered to allow Ms Sommerville to use the women’s bathroom and pay $220,000 (£160,000) in damages, argued that it was protecting women by barring the 51-year-old from using the women’s bathroom.
The court rejected that claim, and said “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).”
She said in an interview with Forbes that the court “stuck to the law”, and that that it was “precedent-setting case in Illinois” because the “Human Rights Act has never been tested in this way in Illinois and actually in the country”.
Hobby Lobby had fought the case for 11 years, with Ms Sommerville first filing a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission in 2013. The body, which was filled with Republicans, had delayed her case until 2019, which led to Friday’s ruling following an appeal, Forbes reported.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said of the ruling, which will force employers to honour the rights of transgender individuals, that “Discrimination of any kind has no place in our society”.
“I will continue to protect the rights of transgender individuals and fight to hold all employers accountable for following anti-discrimination laws,” he added.
The Independent has approached Hobby Lobby for comment.