June 4, 2015 – A San Francisco transgender woman has settled her privacy and civil rights lawsuit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the second lawsuit of its kind against the DMV in the Bay Area in the past four years. In March 2013, Jane Doe, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her privacy, went to the DMV to change the gender marker on her ID to accurately reflect her gender identity. When she presented her paperwork to the clerk, the DMV employee was friendly until discovering that she was transgender. At that point he became visibly angry and began to loudly lecture her on the “sin” of being transgender, calling Ms. Doe the “devil,” until she broke down crying. A manager later apologized and told Ms. Doe that the employee had “done this before.”
“Everyone needs an accurate ID, and when we go to a government agency we should be able to feel confident that we won’t be assaulted by DMV employees or have our personal information shouted out to a roomful of people,” said Ms. Doe. “Most people don’t know I’m transgender, and I had never experienced anything like this before. The harassment I experienced at the DMV was so devastating that I became afraid of people and stopped feeling safe anywhere, ultimately losing my job and my relationship because of the trauma. The worst part is that the DMV knew this was a problem, that this had happened to other transgender people before me, and that it is probably still happening, and they haven’t done anything to stop it.”
Ms. Doe’s lawsuit against the DMV was filed in April 2014 alleging violations of her civil and privacy rights. Ms. Doe brought similar claims against the DMV employee who was involved in the incident. In the settlement, the State of California agreed to pay Ms. Doe almost $30,000. The Transgender Law Center will also continue to urge the DMV to incorporate transgender sensitivity into its ongoing employee training.
The settlement follows a previous settlement with DMV involving similar facts. In that case, also brought by Transgender Law Center, a DMV employee, who had a known history of denying equal service to transgender customers, obtained plaintiff Amber Yust’s personal information at the DMV. The employee then used the information to mail her materials condemning her because she is transgender, and calling for LGBT people to be “put to death.” The DMV settled Ms. Yust’s privacy and civil rights lawsuit on August 15, 2011.
“It is past time for the DMV to address this ongoing problem once and for all by enacting clear policies and putting in place effective training and education for all its staff,” said Kris Hayashi, Executive Director at Transgender Law Center. “Transgender Californians have the right to do something as simple as going to the DMV without fear of harassment and threats of violence. Nobody should have to face abuse from government employees simply because of who they are.”
Transgender Law Center co-counseled the case with attorneys Emily Hostage, Maulik Shah, and Trenton Norris of Arnold & Porter LLP, who represented Ms. Doe pro bono.
Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination