Gender ambiguity and cultural norms clash in the industrial workplace
In this edition of In the Trenches, Acme's first transsexual truck driver gets fired for doing what comes naturally.
Rusty Knutson was diagnosed with Adult Gender Identity Disorder. In short, Rusty believed that he was a woman born with the wrong hardware. In public, he dressed and acted as a male, but, at home, long before the diagnosis, he habitually dressed in female garb and used the name Norma Lee.
Determined to make the necessary structural changes, Rusty completed a long course of psychological counseling. Afterward, an endocrinologist prescribed a regimen of estrogen to prepare Rusty for the event. Rusty began dressing as a female on a full-time basis.
Several years into the estrogen therapy, Rusty applied for a job piloting one of Acme’s trucks to deliver products to customers located within 200 miles of the company’s loading dock. During the 90-day probationary/training period, he presented himself as a male and used the men’s bathroom. Early on, however, Rusty told Al Bumen, the logistics supervisor, about the transsexual issue and that soon he would be coming to work as Norma Lee, a woman, who was planning to undergo surgical gender reassignment. After Al assured Rusty that gender didn’t matter for drivers, Norma Lee began the transformation via makeup, jewelry, decorated fingernails and use of the women’s restrooms at the various destinations while her truck was being unloaded.
Soon, Anna Graham, the plant manager, heard rumors about a makeup-wearing male employee who used the women’s bathroom. Anne talked to Al about the matter. Al explained that Norma Lee was a transsexual planning for the surgery. Anna expressed concern about which customer bathroom Norma Lee would be using during the day.
“The point of my discourse is that cultural norms change slowly.”
Al and Anna met with Norma Lee and asked Norma Lee whether she still had male parts. Norma Lee replied in the affirmative and told them that she was saving money to change that last minor detail. Anna insisted that Acme would be liable if one of its male employee was seen using a women’s restroom at a customer’s dock.
Then, Anna placed Norma Lee on leave, ultimately terminating her two weeks later. Anna justified the action because of potential liability arising from restroom choice and that Acme itself couldn’t accommodate Norma Lee’s restroom needs. Norma Lee countered that Acme hasn’t received any complaints from customers regarding her work, appearance and restroom use.
Norma Lee sued Acme, alleging sex discrimination, arguing that she was a biological male entitled to protection against being discriminated against for failing to conform to stereotypes about how a male should act and appear.
How could this situation have been prevented? Are there circumstances under which a customer would pay any attention to a feminine-looking truck driver who was seen using the women’s room on the loading dock? Why are transgender people viewed as a threat to what we consider to be our social fabric? Let us know what you think.
A plant engineer says:
What a crazy situation that Acme has found itself in this time and through no fault of its own. The situation could have been avoided if Norma would have understood that he is a male and not a female. The fact that Norma wants to change his gender is his problem, and Acme shouldn’t have to be exposed to any ill will from customers or employees because of Norma’s lack of knowing his gender. Why should Acme be placed in a position to send a man (person with “male parts”) into a ladies restroom? The female employees in Acme’s plant should have the right to expect that when they are in the restroom that only ladies (persons with “female parts”) will be in that room. To expect them to have men in the restroom with them is to put Acme at a great risk in my opinion. Acme shouldn’t have to explain to a customer why its male truck driver was in the ladies restroom in their customer’s facility. Norma wants to be a female, but he should not be allowed in the female restroom until he has no male parts left. I don’t know about a transgender threat, but we have different restrooms for a reason.