August 17, 2021
Last week the Illinois Second District Appellate Court announced a precedent-setting ruling, with far-reaching implications in “bathroom battles” around the United States.
More than a decade ago, Meggan Sommerville sued Hobby Lobby, her employer, after the store refused to let her use the women’s bathroom and even ordered other employees to report Ms. Sommerville if she tried to use the women’s bathroom. The Illinois Human Rights Commission found that Hobby Lobby had violated two articles of the Illinois Human Rights Act by discriminating against Ms. Sommerville, who has worked for Hobby Lobby for more than 20 years, on the basis of her sex. Hobby Lobby appealed, arguing that it did not violate the Act because its policy regulated bathroom access based on the user’s “sex,” which Hobby Lobby interpreted to mean a person’s reproductive organs and structures. The suit marks the first time the Act has been tested in this way, and the Court’s decision applies to every public bathroom within a workplace and public accommodation in Illinois.
In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Latham team (Nick Siciliano, Renatta Gorski, Edwin Abundis, and Paige Tapp) drafted an amicus brief in support of the Human Rights Commission’s findings, arguing that the Commission correctly interpreted the law. Relying on recent favorable federal court decisions, the team also argued that subjecting Sommerville to a single-use bathroom — while her colleagues were free to use the public restrooms — further stigmatized Ms. Sommerville and was its own form of discrimination. The Court’s decision affirmed the Commission’s findings and held that Hobby Lobby discriminated against Ms. Sommerville in violation of the Act by treating her differently on the basis of her gender-related identity. The Court further found that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in awarding damages to Ms. Sommerville for the harm she faced.