transgendered seek workplace equality
By Peter Schelden
Sparks Tribune Staff
Darlene Jespersen began working for Harrah's Reno in 1979, she wasn't
looking for a fight. The company's dress code required women to wear
makeup, but Jespersen was allowed to work as a dishwasher, barback and
eventually a bartender without makeup for many years.
"I found it
very degrading and humiliating that I would have to wear makeup ...
to take the trash out or stock beer," Jespersen said at a Workplace
Equality Power rally held Tuesday at the Speakeasy Casino in Reno. The
makeup policy was not enforced until a "Personal Best" workplace
policy took effect in 2000.
"I was told
it was because of the lighting, that the (casino) lighting washed my
face out," Jespersen said. "But the men didn't have to do
she was the victim of gender discrimination, and that women were being
forced to pay for, apply and wear makeup while men had no such requirements
made of their appearance.
"At one point
they told me I had to do it because I was a woman, and if I didn't,
I couldn't be a bartender," Jespersen said. Jespersen was fired
for refusing to wear makeup, and then sued Harrah's. Last December,
the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Jespersen. The divided
court ruled that employers have the right to discriminate between men
and women where dress codes are concerned, so long as both groups are
Lambda Legal Group
lawyer Jenny Pizer argued the "Personal Best" program
created an unequal burden between men and women.
are required to do it in a way that is expensive and time-consuming,
and it takes away their individuality," Pizer said. "The only
requirement for men is to not wear makeup, not buy it, not spend time
putting it on. So it's an unequal burden."
Pizer said the
court's ruling mandates uncomfortable dress for women, an expectation
she said women have been held to for many years.
corsets, high heels, makeup ˜ there are a lot of things women have been
expected to wear," Pizer said. "The issue here is choice."
But this ruling
raises more complicated questions for people whose bodies don't coincide
with their gender. Men who express themselves as women through hormone
therapies and sex reassignment surgeries often deal with the confusion
of office dress code policies. And other workplace problems exist for
such people, such as use of company restrooms.
Many believe that
companies should be allowed to cater to the preferences of their customers,
but Pizer compared this approach to allowing only black people to serve
preference were a defense, there would be no reason to have an employer
discrimination law," Pizer said.
Ben Felix with Reno's A Rainbow Place, a recent Nevada survey showed
that 65 percent of gay, bisexual and transgendered respondents claim
to have lost a job or experienced harassment at work because of their
sexual orientation or gender presentation.
of the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, a state organization that investigates
discrimination complaints, said people who choose to present their genders
differently are protected from workplace discrimination.
a right to complain about behaviors that you think are illegal,"
Nicks said. The law upholds these protections, but proving discrimination
can be difficult, especially in an employ-at-will
state like Nevada.
of proof is on the person making the claim," Nicks said.
fighting discrimination can be costly.
two and a half years before I could get a real job," Jespersen
said. "I had to work through temp services."
Pizer said being
fired and suing a former employer can be difficult to explain to future
have to be a conspiracy," Pizer said.
Nicks said it is
important for people to know their rights with regard to discrimination.
often uninformed about even those basic rights that they have,"
Copyright © 2005 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission.
TRUE FACE OF NEVADA GAMBLING
Darlene Jespersen's complete story and photos + links