Jessi Dye was pretty thrilled when she got the job at Summerford Nursing Home in Alabama. She filled out all her paperwork, she attended the training workshops required of her, and was vaccinated as per company policy, and most of all, she was excited that Summerford was going to pay for her training to become a certified nurse’s assistant [CNA].
However, when she showed up on the job, Robert Summerford, the manager, called her into his office at lunch to discuss her paperwork, and the minute Jessi walked in, before even having the chance to sit down he asked:
“What are you?”
Jessi was caught off guard, to be sure, but she was used to awkward — though I call them stupid — questions when a new employer noticed the identity on her driver’s license doesn’t match the one she presents in person.
Jessi is a trans woman. And so she answered Summerford’s question by explaining her situation — that she was born male and is transitioning to female — and he asked:
“What am I supposed to do with you?”
Then he fired her on the spot because, well, trans.
So, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] Jessi filed a workplace discrimination suit and, rather than see the case taken all the way to federal court, Summerford settled with Jessi. Part of the settlement requires Summerford to institute a new official policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to conduct sensitivity training seminars regarding LGBTQ people.
This is one of those rare, lucky cases, when a company, and their lawyers, realized that the times are changing and that there need to be new understanding about trans people, or people of any sexual orientation or gender identity, in the workplace.
But what Summerford didn't do, however, was actually break the law. Alabama, and federal law, is still vague on the issue, and with the failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] to be passed, there are no clear-cut workplace protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Jessi was also awarded a cash settlement from Summerford but says:
"It was never about money. It was always about the education, letting other trans people know that they have a right, that they are protected under the law."
And so maybe now she can go to school and become a CNA after all, and we can hope that when she does, and when she finds a job, the times have changed enough so that no one will question Jessi’s identity ever again.
And maybe, one day, and one day soon, when Jessi Dye, and others like her, apply for jobs, are accepted to the position, go through training, and show up for work, they won’t be fired immediately because a driver’s licenses identity doesn’t match the face in front of the boss.
And that means we also need to work for our trans brothers and sisters to make sure that they can have their licenses and identification papers changed to their correct gender as they transition so that they can be seen as who they truly are, and not as anything else.
The march goes on …