Lessons from Largo: Nondiscrimination Policies in the Public and Private Sectors

 -  3/12/07

In a world in which business and politics often collide, controversial cases involving discrimination frequently determine where employee rights begin and corporate freedoms end.

In a world in which business and politics often collide, controversial cases involving discrimination frequently determine where employee rights begin and corporate freedoms end. In Largo, Fla., one such story recently has come to light — the dismissal of City Manager Steve Stanton has opened the door to debate about the rights of transgender employees in the workplace and the legal ramifications of the issue for the private sector.

In January, Stanton informed a select group of city officials, including Largos Mayor Pat Gerard, that he planned to have sexual reassignment surgery in the coming year, using behavior adaptations and medical procedures to become Susan Stanton.

In mid-February, one of Stanton’s confidants leaked this information to the media, causing a public outcry and prompting the Largo City Commission to hold a special meeting to discuss the termination of his tenure. After a four-hour meeting, the commission voted 5 to 2 to put Stanton on administrative leave until the decision could be finalized.

This outcome has created controversy, causing advocacy groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) rights to condemn the commission’s resolution. Many supporters say Stanton should sue.

Lynn D. Lieber, Esq., founder and CEO of Workplace Answers, a compliance training organization, said there are many different legal venues Stanton could use to sue the city.

She also said organizations in both the public and private sectors need to learn from this case to protect themselves from discrimination lawsuits and guard their reputations.

“Such cases exact a heavy price on organizations in time, legal fees and reputation,” Lieber said. “A single highly publicized discrimination lawsuit can affect an organization’s reputation, the morale of its employees and its perception among job candidates for many years in the future.”

She said many companies already recognize the business value of creating full equality in the workplace, which is demonstrated by the growing number of businesses that have received a perfect rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI).

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