A transgender hairdresser has been awarded nearly $13,250 after the Employment Relations Authority ruled she was forced out of her job when she revealed to her boss she would transition to living as a woman.
Dakota Hemmingson was employed by Matt Swan at hair salon Barker's Groom Room in Auckland for six weeks until she left the job on April 14, 2015. The salon operated independently of the Barkers clothing store.
The dispute about whether she was unjustifiably dismissed from her role was heard at the Employment Relations Authority this month.
Hemmingson told the Authority she approached Swan on April 11 and explained to him she would transition. According to Hemmingson, this took Swan by surprise and he asked if this meant she would be coming to work dressed as a woman.
Swan said he supported this move on a personal level, but he was concerned about the impact it would have on the salon.
What happened at a follow-up meeting on April 14 was disputed by Hemmingson and Swan, but Member of the Authority Rachel Larmer preferred Hemmingson's version of events.
Swan told Hemmingson he was concerned for her safety in the salon, which Larmer said was "entirely without merit".
When Hemmingson was told her transition didn't fit the commercial profile of the business she felt there was no other option than to leave her employment.
In her decision, Larmer said if Swan truly didn't want Hemmingson to leave her job he would have asked her why she felt this way and offered solutions to make her stay.
Instead, Swan asked whether she wanted to leave immediately or work out her notice, before telling her if the transition didn't work out she could return as a man.
Hemmingson told the Herald she was "overwhelmed" to receive the decision in her favour.
"It's a huge win for transgender rights and human rights, but personally, it's been a huge burden.
"I didn't want any special treatment [at the salon]. This was never about money or attention."
Hemmingson said she hoped her case sent a message to employers that they need to educate themselves on gender identity. She was proud the case would set a precedent in the ERA against discrimination against transgender people in the workplace.
"We deserve equal rights."
Swan said he was disappointed with the ruling and was considering his options.
"I've only ever wished goodwill for Dakota. She was a valued employee and we did have a good working relationship," he said.
Hemmingson told the ERA the dismissal caused her severe anxiety and she began questioning her identity. She said it destroyed her sense of self-worth and value.
Hemmingson had devoted her life to hairdressing and it hurt her deeply to be told she didn't fit in in her chosen career, she said.
She was awarded $3,248 in lost wages and $11,000 compensation for the hurt and humiliation the dismissal caused her.