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Japan transgender woman files suit after ‘human were rights violated’

A transgender employee at drinks maker Yakult is suing the company after she was 'forced to come out'
A transgender employee at drinks maker Yakult is suing the company after her ‘human rights were violated’

AICHI (TR) – A transgender woman with gender identity disorder filed a lawsuit against an affiliate of Yakult Honsha in Nagoya on Tuesday, claiming the company forced her to come out to her colleagues.

The woman in her 40s, who works at Aichi Yakult factory, is seeking 3.3 million yen in the Nagoya District Court from the company, claiming she suffered mental distress after she was forced to announce her gender identity disorder in front of her 140-person department, the Sankei Shimbun reports (June 28).

According to the lawsuit, the woman was allegedly forced to greet all 140 of her colleagues in the morning on three separate occasions with the lines: “I’m going to be an inconvenience to everyone because I’m getting treatment for my gender identity disorder. I ask for your understanding and cooperation.”

The Chunichi Shimbun quoted the woman as saying her “human rights were violated.”

“I question whether I needed to make that announcement to my colleagues numerous times in one day,” the woman told reporters after she filed the lawsuit. “I probably wouldn’t have had to do it if the factory respected different kinds of people.”

The plaintiff lives as a woman in her private life, but was maintaining a male identity at her workplace out of fear she would face prejudice, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Aichi Yakult factory declined to comment, saying the company’s views “will be revealed in court.”

The company previously claimed the name change at the workplace was “at her own request and the announcement was also not forced, she had agreed to it.”

“The judgement was made that it would benefit the individual if, based on consent, information was disclosed and understanding was gained,” the Yakult affiliate was quoted as saying by the Asahi.

Depression, isolation

The transgender woman is listed as a man on her family register, but received hormone treatment and was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in January 2014.

She filed a request with the Nagoya Family Court in May to adopt a female name, and told her boss she wanted to arrange the necessary procedures for matters like her health insurance card.

She told the company she wanted to continue using her male name at the workplace, and asked if she could use the women’s changing room instead.

The company responded by changing her name on bulletin boards and her name tag to her female name, without permission, and said she can use female changing rooms if she comes out to her colleagues in her department.

She was subsequently diagnosed with depression in January 2015 and took a leave of absence.

Jiji Press quoted the woman as saying she was forced to work in an isolated warehouse after she returned.

Yakult claims

Yakult Honsha is known for its probiotic drink called Yakult, which is sold in small plastic bottles with a red top. The company has come under scrutiny in recent years for its namesake drink’s digestive health benefit claims.

Yakult U.S.A. faced a false advertising lawsuit in January, where the plaintiff claimed consuming Yakult “does not actually confer any health benefit.”

The Guardian also questioned the health benefits of probiotic drinks like Yakult, saying it was told the drink’s maker was “confident” its scientific research would be approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

But the writer noted that the jury is still out on the effectiveness of probiotics, adding that all of the EFSA’s opinion pieces on probiotics so far were negative.

In Japan, the official Yakult website repeatedly states that the drink has a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare as a “food specified for health use.”