In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the State of Colorado recently concluded that the firing of a transgender woman was illegal sex discrimination. The Colorado Civil Rights Division has issued a “probable cause” finding that Intermountain Testing Company illegally discriminated against its transgender employee, Danielle Cornwell, on the basis of sex when it fired her. There is evidence that the company stereotyped its position as "man's work," and fired an employee who had successfully performed the position for 15 years because of his new gender as a woman.
Known for most of her life as David, in June 2005, Cornwell informed her company that she was a transgender woman and would begin transitioning to the female gender. This would include wearing female clothing and going by the name “Danielle.” Only a month later, ITC fired her.
Based in Greenwood Village, ITC provides testing services to the construction and manufacturing industries. Cornwell had worked as a radiographer and testing technician for ITC for more than 15 years. The company stated that it fired her for “lack of work.” The CCRD didn’t find this explanation credible because Cornwell was one of the most senior and experienced employees of the company, had a satisfactory job performance, and was the only female technician. The company had not fired less senior and less qualified male employees.
According to Ms. Mari Newman, one of Cornwell’s attorneys, the company’s decision to fire Ms. Cornwell was “sex discrimination, pure and simple.” Ms. Newman said that the company was “happy to employ Ms. Cornwell as a man doing what it considered to be a ‘man’s job.’ After she came out as a woman, the company was not willing to allow her to continue the work she had been performing successfully for years as a man.” Danielle Cornwell expressed gratitude for the agency’s finding: “I’ve worked hard all of my life. My work and my abilities did not change along with my gender.” ITC and Cornwell are scheduled to participate in a mandatory “conciliation” meeting this month to attempt to resolve the complaint.
Employers must focus on the qualifications and performance of their employees, not their genders. Because the state agency enforcing the anti-discrimination laws has recognized that transgender employees are entitled to protection under the sex discrimination laws as all other men and women, employers must take care not to violate the rights of workers based on stereotypes of "men's" and "women's" work. This ruling follows in the footsteps of similar rulings from other states and “demonstrates Colorado’s clear understanding that discrimination against transgender people is intolerable,” according to Mr. John Hummell, the Legal Director for The Center’s Legal Initiative’s Project, who also represents Cornwell.
Kimberlie K. Ryan, The Ryan Law Firm, LLC, http://www.ryanfirm.com/
A copy of CCRD’s probable cause determination in Cornwell’s case may be obtained through The Center’s website at http://www.glbtcolorado.org/.