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Lambda Legal, Equality Illinois file brief for trans Hobby Lobby employee

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ELGIN — Lambda Legal and Equality Illinois have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a transgender woman suing Hobby Lobby over restroom access.

In a press release last week, Lambda Legal said the brief had been filed in the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois in Elgin for Meggan Sommerville, who has been in a years-long legal fight with her employer Hobby Lobby.

Illinois law protects the right of trans people to use the restroom of their gender identity. Hobby Lobby has a long history of anti-LGBTQ policies.

“Meggan Sommerville is a woman, full stop,” said Ethan Rice, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal, in the press release. “Well-established state and federal law says so, but most importantly, Meggan Sommerville says so. Hobby Lobby has denied this woman her equal rights for far too long; she is a human being and deserves better.”

“Illinois law is clear: Meggan Sommerville is due her equal rights and dignity by Hobby Lobby,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s LGBTQ civil rights organization. “Throughout Meggan’s case, Hobby Lobby has acted in direct contrast to Illinois’ values of justice, inclusion and fairness in the workplace, and respecting people for who they are. Now, we urge the appellate court to settle this matter by ensuring Meggan’s equality and dignity under the law.”

Sommerville, who had been an employee of the craft store chai for more than 20 years, filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission in 2013 when she was forced to use the men’s room or go to a women’s restroom at a nearby business after she transitioned. In 2015, Administrative Law Judge William J. Borah ruled that Hobby Lobby violated the Illinois Human Rights Act and said the company should pay her $220,000 for emotional distress. They have refused to comply during the appeal and have reportedly tried to disqualify Borah because of his work as a civil rights attorney in private practice.

“Hobby Lobby has shown that they will stop at nothing in order to avoid treating Ms. Sommerville and all transgender people with basic human dignity and respect even if it means attacking the judge that ruled against them in retaliation,” said Rice. “A history of representing LGBT plaintiffs honorably is not evidence of bias. You can’t disqualify a judge simply because you don’t like his ruling.”

Read the brief here.

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