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Transgender U.S. military vet settles employment discrimination lawsuit

HUNTINGTON BEACH — A transgender U.S. military veteran who sued her former employer for gender identity discrimination and wrongful termination has settled her lawsuit.

Juliet Owen, 42, a former Long Beach resident who lives in Huntington Beach, was hired as a swim instructor in May 2015 at the Anaheim location of the Australian Swim Schools, an Orange County based swimming school with students ranging in age from three months to adults.

WHAT HAPPENED

After she started working at the swim school, Owen, who relocated from Virginia Beach, Virginia, told her boss she is transgender, but was laid off by the school about a month later, according to court documents. 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.

Owen and the Australian Swim Schools reached a confidential settlement January 16.

“I’m so glad it’s over,” Owen said. “I didn’t want it dragged out in court for  a while.”

Both Owen’s attorney, Richard Jorgensen, and Jonathan Judge, attorney with the swim school, said they were happy to have reached a settlement that satisfied both parties.

TRANSGENDER PROTECTIONS, YET DISCRIMINATED AGAINST

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.

An estimated 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.

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.

NEW BEGINNINGS

At time when Owen filed her complaint in 2015, she was homeless and lived in a Long Beach shelter. Since then, Owen has found employment working part-time as a custodian at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and is engaged.

“Life is getting better,” Owen said.

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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ students.

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