Bathroom blow-up

The SE Texas Record Apr. 19, 2008, 2:43pm

This week's lesson in workplace litigation risk management: be sure to take care when hiring men who aspire to be women.

It's the natural executive reaction to Gerald Jeanmard, the fired Jefferson County oil refinery worker who sued his employer this week for "refusing to recognize his gender identity."

Jeanmard is a biological male. But he wants to become a woman and dresses like one. At the Motiva oil refinery in Port Arthur, the nation's largest with hundreds of employees, that distinction proved troublesome.

Men didn't want Jeanmard--dressed like a woman--in the men's bathroom. Women didn't want Jeanmard--who is a man--in the woman's.

Aiming to accommodate all employees, the boss crafted a middle ground solution for what seems to have been an impossible situation. Jeanmard could pick whichever bathroom he wanted, but when he needed to go, he could call for an escort to one or the other bathroom.

This was too much for Jeanmard. He protested the compromise as "egregious" and eventually was fired.

After filing a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jeanmard filed a civil lawsuit in Jefferson County on April 10. It demands his ex-employer pay him punitive and exemplary damages for conduct that, as he alleges "cannot be tolerated by society."

He's referring to the bathroom escort compromise, which the complaint calls "improper and discriminatory sexual stereotyping."

These dramatics all beg an obvious question--if you were the boss in this case, what would you have done? How would you have handled the Jeanmard dilemma?

Do you accommodate your male employees or your female ones? Or do you accommodate Jeanmard alone, which appears to have been the only acceptable resolution from his purview?

That's not a resolution at all. It's a concession for one at the expense of many others. Fair treatment and special treatment aren't one and the same.

The company tried to find a middle ground and got sued for its effort. Recognize the real victim in this case?

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