Hobby Lobby was ordered to pay $220,000 to a transgender employee who had been barred from using the women’s bathroom as she requested.
The crafts supply company tried to accommodate Meggan Sommerville’s requests when she transitioned a decade after being hired in 1998 but the companydrew the line at her choice of bathrooms.
“Hobby Lobby changed Sommerville’s personnel records and benefits information to reflect her female identity,” wrote Illinois Second District Appellate Court Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok. “However, Hobby Lobby refused to allow Sommerville to use the women’s bathroom at the store.”
Sommerville claimed that the company’s transgender rules caused her emotional toil that manifested in physical illness.
“Hobby Lobby’s bathroom ban gave Sommerville recurrent nightmares about bathrooms, being approached by men, and being physically assaulted and laughed at by them,” read the summary of the case. “She also developed physical symptoms including headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, gastric problems, and dehydration due to restricting her fluid intake.”
Hobby Lobby lost the lawsuit in 2019 and appealed to the appellate court.
On Friday that court affirmed the earlier decision that found the company was violating the Illinois Human Rights Act.
The three-justice panel said the $220,000 award was the highest ever for emotional distress.
“Three to four times a day, she was forced to choose whether to endure the shame and anxiety of using the men’s bathroom, risk discipline for using the women’s bathroom, or risk neglecting her job duties by leaving her workplace to use the women’s bathroom at another business. Her distress drove her to avoid liquid intake, resulting in dehydration. The stress also made her subject to bursts of crying, headaches, and nightmares regularly.”
Sommerville, who is a Christian, continues to work at the company.