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EEOC brings retaliation claim on behalf of transgender employee

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced it was suing educational technology company IXL Learning on behalf of transgender employee Adrian Scott Duane. Duane turned to Glassdoor.com to warn others of his recent negative experiences at IXL after he felt he was treated unfairly due to his gender identity. The online review ultimately led to his firing by the company’s CEO.

The accommodation request

Duane believed he was discriminated against after he requested an accommodation from his employer. He wanted to telecommute as he recovered from gender confirmation surgery, and he felt that his request was treated differently than similar requests by other employees. The request was not quickly approved; his supervisor sought out alternative solutions to avoid the accommodation and then escalated the request his superiors. It was then that Duane posted his review on Glassdoor.

The Glassdoor review

While the post was anonymous, Duane admitted to the company’s CEO that he wrote the following post:

“If you’re not a family-oriented white or Asian straight or mainstream gay person with 1.7 kids who really likes softball–then you’re likely to find yourself on the outside. … Most management do not know what the word ‘discrimination’ means, nor do they seem to think it matters.”

Within minutes of taking responsibility for the review, he was fired.

The EEOC’s stance

The EEOC is suing IXL for retaliation on the grounds that Duane’s actions were legally protected and could not result in termination or any other adverse action. Protected conduct includes reporting harassment and discrimination. An employer may not fire or discipline an employee for engaging in protected activities. If they do, the employee can file a retaliation claim.

Laws pertaining to digital communications are ever-evolving – as shifting as the internet itself. However, if the court rules in Duane’s favor, the case could set precedent and provide more protection from retaliatory actions if an employee posts, emails or otherwise communicates negatively about an employer online.

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