Long Beach transgender woman files wrongful termination complaint

Juliet Owen, a transgender U.S. military veteran , is suing the Australian Swim School in Anaheim, claiming gender discrimination and wrongful termination. Owen was homeless and living in a Long Beach shelter. Photo: Long Beach LGBTQ Center.

LONG BEACH – A homeless U.S, military veteran living at the Villages at Cabrillo has filed a legal complaint against an Orange County swim school claiming gender identity discrimination and wrongful termination.

Julie Owen, 41, relocated from Virginia Beach, Virginia, after she was hired as a swim instructor in May 2015 for the Anaheim location of the Australian Swim Schools, an Orange County based swimming school with students ranging in age from three months to adults.

After she started working at the swim school, Owen told her boss she is transgender, but was laid off by the school about a month later, according to the complaint. The school told Owen she was laid off because not enough students had signed up for summer water safety lessons, yet when Owen returned to the facility about two weeks later to visit a friend, she noticed three new employees were hired to teach swimming lessons, the complaint said.

“I’m a human being. To treat me like this is not right. You can’t treat people like this,” Owen told Out in the 562. “Just because I’m different from you doesn’t mean I can’t do my job.”

Wrongful Termination Complaint

Owen filed the complaint, a precursor to a lawsuit, in Orange County Superior Court on Oct. 1, 2015.

“The Australian Swim School denies any wrongdoing and believes the facts of the case will bear that out,” attorney Jonathan Judge told Out in the 562. “We will comply with all state and federal laws and provide and appropriate workplace for all employees and protect the interests of the students who train at the Australian Swim School.”

Owen served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1993 to 1994 and worked on aviation electronics while stationed in Memphis. She was honorably discharged after being diagnosed with chondromalacia, or “runner’s knee,” degeneration of cartilage in the knee, which causes intense pain.

Workplace Discrimination

California is one of 19 states plus Washington D.C. that protect transgender people in the workplace and prohibit firing someone based on gender identity, according to the Transgender Law Center.

About one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias, and more than three-quarters have experienced some form of workplace discrimination, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“Transgender people have not made the same strides to equality as other members of the LGBT community,” Owen’s attorney, Richard Jorgensen told Out in the 562. “If there is any sense of justice, you should not be fired under the law for being transgender.”

 

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.