Transgender Woman Battles Against Hobby Lobby Over Bathroom Use

Most of the recent media buzz surrounding Hobby Lobby, a popular craft store chain, has focused on the company’s Supreme Court victory permitting it to refuse coverage of certain forms of contraception. But in a separate legal battle, a longtime transgender employee is alleging discrimination in case that is sure to put the company at the center of additional controversy.

Meggan Sommerville, who was born a male, first filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights back in 2011, claiming that she has been forced to use the men’s restroom until her sex reassignment surgery is complete.

The claim was initially dismissed, though a suit is still pending against the company.

Sommerville, a long-time employee, has worked for a Hobby Lobby store in Aurora, Illinois, since 1998, though her transition did not begin until 2009, according to Christian Today.

Customers walk to a Hobby Lobby store in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that employers can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women. The Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-crafts stores is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Customers walk to a Hobby Lobby store in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Hobby Lobby apparently accommodated the initial changes in Sommerville’s identity, amending her name on staff records and even covering hormone therapy through the company’s health care plan.

But when it came to the women’s bathroom, she said her bosses doubled down.

“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 told Newsweek, citing the company’s recognition of her gender change on certain fronts. “If they recognize me as female for certain things, why can’t they recognize me as female for everything?”

Sommerville, a Christian, told the Huffington Post that she was “devastated” when she first learned she wouldn’t be able to use the women’s restroom.

“I just want to be treated like all the other women,” she said. “To do anything else diminishes who I am in the eyes of customers and employees.”

As a transgender woman, she worries about customers or other staffers finding out about her identity without knowing her full history, making trips to the men’s bathroom both complicated and stressful.

At times, she said she has hidden in stalls and waited for others to leave the bathroom in an effort to ensure that she isn’t seen.

FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, a woman walks from a Hobby Lobby Inc., store in Little Rock, Ark. Christian pastors plan to deliver petitions to Hobby Lobby officials in protest of the Oklahoma-based company s lawsuit challenging health care guidelines that require the coverage of the morning-after pill. Credit: AP

Sommerville added that she opposes the recent Supreme Court victory as well.

“I don’t believe that any company has the right to deny access to appropriate medical care, same as the reason why I don’t believe that they have the right to deny me access to the washroom,” she said. “No company has the right to dictate what is decided between me and my doctor.”

As for her own case, Sommerville has accused the company of imposing “unequal terms and conditions” on her due to her gender identity. One of the charges filed relates to employment discrimination and the other to discrimination in public accommodation, according to Newsweek.

Sommerville did say that the company has not cited its Christian views as a reason for the purported bathroom refusal.

The case currently sits before the Illinois Human Rights Commission.

(H/T: Christian Today)