A transsexual sales manager who was forced to switch sexual identities at her employer's whim has been awarded more than €35,000 in compensation for gender discrimination.
Louise Hannon (50), from Arbour Hill, north Dublin, last night said she felt vindicated after winning the case against her former employer First Direct Logistics Ltd after the precedent-setting decision by the Equality Tribunal.
"It's closure. It means I can get on with my life," she said. "I'm stubborn and when I saw something wrong, I stood up and said I won't be treated like this."
Ms Hannon, who was born a male, is the first transsexual worker to successfully use the Employment Equality Act in a case of discrimination on the grounds of transsexualism.
The tribunal found that Ms Hannon was discriminated against by her employer on the basis of gender and disability and was awarded €35,422.71 plus interest from her former employer.
Ms Hannon worked as a man as a business development manager for the company for five years before she disclosed to management in October 2006 that she was a transsexual and would be leaving the company the following May because she didn't think a transport firm "would be comfortable with it".
The company, however, encouraged her to stay in the job and in December 2006 she met company officials to discuss the workplace implications of her transition to female and was asked to wait a few months to accommodate a new staff member.
But when she arrived in the office as a woman after changing her name by deed poll in March 2007, she was told she would have to work the phones in her "male identity" from home, while a new office was set up, and would have to revert to a male identity when meeting clients. She was also forbidden from using the women's toilet at work.
Despite several requests from her to return to the office, she was eventually told that a new employee had been hired and there was no room for her at the office, the tribunal heard.
On July 19, 2007, she was told by the company director that he was not happy with her work.
She again asked to be allowed to work from the office but was refused on the grounds that her presence "caused a bad atmosphere". She left the company at the end of the month claiming that she had been constructively dismissed.
The company countered that it had made every effort to accommodate Ms Hannon's transition and claimed that she was depressed and unable to generate new sales. However, the Equality Officer investigating the case found that "requesting Ms Hannon to switch between a male/female identity whenever the respondent felt the need for it constituted direct discrimination on the gender and disability grounds".
Ms Hannon was diagnosed as having Gender Identity Disorder, a psychiatric condition in which a person believes they were born in the wrong gender.
The officer also found that forcing Ms Hannon to work from home was discriminatory and she "was isolated in her home from late April 2007".
Last night, a spokesman for the firm apologised to Ms Hannon, noting she was a "popular and respected member of staff".
"We regret the circumstances in which we failed to provide a full level of support and understanding," he said.
The ruling was applauded by the Equality Authority's chair Angela Kerins.
She said: "I am pleased the Employment Equality Acts have proven to be robust in the defence of transsexual rights in the workplace."
Ms Hannon is currently on hormone therapy and is pursuing a new career as a photographer.