Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Court order restoring trans woman Christine Ehlers to her job ignored

Vandy Beth Glenn has been valiently fighting a battle for her job over here in the States, but over in South Africa, Christine Ehlers is fighting a battle against work-related cissexist discrimination. Ehlers was a saleswoman at a South African steel plant, Bohler Udderholm. She was fired explicitly because of her trans status:
“It was also determined in discussion with management that the position is distinctly for a male employee and the applicant (Ehlers) [has] already got distinct female features that create a difficult situation…. In the end, the employer has to protect its business and may demand a certain standard of acceptability from its representatives in relation to its customers.”
How, exactly, is any job specifically for male employees in 2010? This isn't about Ehlers' competence at her job; it's about using sexism (only men can do this sales job!) to enforce what's actually cissexism (trans identities make cis people uncomfortable). They go on to say that they "feared" her and provided some slim anecdotal evidence of her personality missteps that sound to me like reasonable reactions to harassment and misgendering. Their fear was based not on some threat posed by Ehlers but instead their hatred and distaste for her trans status.

Judge Ellen Francis reacted completely appropriately to this disgusting act of discrimination by ordering Bohler Udderholm to give Ehlers her job back with back pay and benefits. But her estwhile employer is apparently passionate enough about preserving cissupremacy that they've decided to ignore the order of the court just to keep a trans woman from coming into their environment:
"I arrived at 8am and they made me wait until 9am before they saw me. They gave me a letter saying that they had not received a copy of the judgment and until the board has seen it I cannot return to work. I am feeling deflated and totally dejected," Ehlers said.
This is patently ridiculous; I don't believe for a second that they were unaware of the widely reported ruling. Furthermore, Ehlers' lawyer says that Bohler Udderholm's lawyers were with him when he got the verdict. Bohler Udderholm is so committed to devaluing trans identities that it's facing contempt of court.

The workplace is a fraught place for trans people; the harrassment and prejudice they face on a daily basis is particularly harmful because it's often backed up by the courts. But even in the rare event that the judicial system is actually able to do its job and prevent (rather than enforce) discrimination, systematic cissexism still runs rampant.

sources: one, two, three

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