The Aug. 13 Appellate Court decision, which requires Hobby Lobby to allow Sommerville to use the women’s restroom and allows her to pursue $220,000 in damages awarded by the Illinois Human Rights Commission, is a “tremendous victory for the transgender community,” according to one of her lawyers, Jacob Meister of Chicago, who worked on the case with co-counsel Katherine Christy.
Illinois court sides with transgender woman in 10-year battle with Hobby Lobby | State & Regional
The court rejected Hobby Lobby’s argument that a person’s sex is determined by their reproductive organs and anatomy, and found that “Sommerville’s sex is unquestionably female.”
“The court affirmed in a very resounding way that a (transgender) person’s gender identity is recognized in Illinois law, and Illinois courts will enforce nondiscrimination against the transgendered,” Meister said.
Sommerville’s battle began shortly after she completed her transition to living as a woman in July 2010, with a new name, Social Security card and driver’s license. Hobby Lobby, where she had worked since 1998, changed her personnel records to reflect her female gender but balked at what has become a flashpoint in the transgender culture wars: access to a gender-appropriate bathroom.
Sommerville was informed that she wouldn’t be able to use the women’s restroom, according to court records.
In early 2011, she was written up for using the women’s room, an experience she has described as emotionally devastating. She was “very upset” and “broke down crying” according to court records. She looked for a lawyer and in February 2013, she filed complaints with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, saying Hobby Lobby was discriminating against her based on gender identity.