Last year, on May 27, the Maine Superior Court, Androscoggin County, ruled on a case involving a claim of unlawful public accommodation discrimination by a transgender person.
In Freeman v. Realty Resources Hospitality, LLC, d/b/a Denny's of Auburn, No. CV 09-199, the Maine Superior Court held, in a fairly simple decision, that, if it were true that the manager prohibited the plaintiff, Brianna Freeman, from using the women's bathroom based on her gender identity, then that would be a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders' Transgender Rights Project, which prosecuted the lawsuit, has reached an agreement with Realty Resources Hospitality, which operates six Denny's restaurants throughout Maine.
According to the GLAD press release, Realty Resources Hospitality has agreed that at all of the restaurants it operates, all transgender individuals, including Ms. Freeman, will have access to the restroom consistent with their stated gender identity.
While the decision, and the settlement, only specifically affects Denny's restaurants in Maine, the fact that this is the first public court decision favoring the use of public restroom accommodations is a significant milestone. It will likely be cited in any future court decisions and legislative actions.
There have been previous decisions regarding restroom accommodations by private employers. Of these, two were unfavorable, and one said that the option was up to employers. At this point in legal history, the Denny's decision is a major step forward.
Here's the rest of the GLAD press release.
"GLAD is pleased with the results of this case," said GLAD Attorney Janson Wu. "We're happy to have had the opportunity to work with business leaders to make Maine's business establishments open and welcoming to all potential customers."
"We recognize and support Ms. Freeman's gender transition over the past three and half years, said Brian Mesley, a spokesperson for Realty Resources Hospitality. "Her transition and this lawsuit presented a new issue for us. It has been an educational process, and we reaffirm our commitment to provide top-notch services to all our customers. We believe the resolution of this case will work well for all of our customers and preserved the dignity and safety of all."
The agreement brings to a conclusion Freeman v. Realty Resources Hospitality LLC, which Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed in Androscoggin Superior Court in 2009 on behalf of Ms. Freeman after she had been told by the manager of the Auburn Denny's that she could not use the women's restroom. GLAD defeated a motion to dismiss by the defendants: on May 27, 2010, the Maine Superior Court issued a critical, first-of-its-kind ruling that Maine's law protecting transgender people from discrimination includes ensuring appropriate access to bathrooms.
GLAD then argued for summary judgment in the case, seeking a final order allowing Ms. Freeman - and other transgender Mainers - fair and equal access to the appropriate restrooms. Both parties reached agreement before the issuance of any decision regarding the summary judgment.
"The bottom line for me and other transgender patrons is that Denny's has welcomed us to use the restroom that is consistent with how we live our lives," said Ms. Freeman. "That makes good sense. Any other rule is just not workable for anyone."
More about the case, including legal documents, is posted at http://www.glad.org/work/cases/freeman-v-dennys/.
Ms. Freeman was also represented by GLAD's Jennifer Levi and Bennett Klein, as well as attorney Jeffrey Neil Young of the Topsham, ME law firm of McTeague Higbee.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England's leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.