Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Rules That Anti-Trans* Discrimination Is, In Fact, Discrimination

Of the many injustices and forms of marginalization that trans* people suffer, job discrimination is one of the most pervasive. Shockingly few legal protections exist for trans* and non-gender conforming employees in the workplace; in many states, it’s totally possible to fire or refuse to hire someone because of discomfort with their trans status or gender identity, and for that person to have no legal recourse. Many workplaces that have sexual orientation included in their non-discrimination policies leave out gender identity and expression, and attempts to get a gender-identity-inclusive version of ENDA passed through Congress have consistently failed.

There are other, smaller pieces of legislation that have made strides in the direction of equality, though. 2011 was called by some a “year of significant progress in the struggle for trans* equality” after a series of lawsuits and rulings established some precedent for workplace equality. Massachusetts passed a law in November (which will go into effect in July) that will make it the 16th state that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. But maybe the most important step of all has happened in 2012; on April 20, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Mia Macy had been refused a job because of her trans status, and the EEOC ruled that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is gender discrimination prohibited by Title VII.” Title VII is the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on sex, and according to the EEOC’s ruling, the fact that Macy was told she would definitely be hired at the crime laboratory where she was interviewing pending a background check and then told funding was cut once her status as transitioning was disclosed (and someone else was later given the position), constitutes a violation of Title VII, and therefore sets an important precedent for trans* employees everywhere.

The EEOC’s ruling went into effect yesterday, which means that now if a trans* person is fired or treated unfairly by an employer and suspect it’s because of their gender identity, they have a legal precedent to point to, and much steadier ground to stand on if they choose to pursue legal action. Masen Davis of the Transgender Law Center said in a statement celebrating the ruling that “If you think you are being targeted with harassment or discrimination at work, I urge you to contact your local EEOC office and file a complaint.” Although the case the EEOC ruled on involved a government employee, it’s likely that their decision will still be applicable to employees in the private sector. This means that individuals can now file charges of employment discrimination based on gender identity with the EEOC — something that may seem like an obvious right, but still isn’t for many trans* and gender-nonconforming people.

Based on the EEOC’s ruling, companies may no longer make hiring or firing decisions based on gender identity, and to avoid litigation, they’re recommended to update their in-house policies to be in accordance with the law. Employee trainings and handbooks are now recommended to include information on how discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression is illegal, and employers are encouraged to train management staff on how to react when employees approach them about transitioning.

Back in January, Annika wrote about Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired from her job when she began her transition. Her lawsuit in US District Court was decided in her favor, and it’s helped contribute to the momentum that has finally brought us to a moment where she would have had legal recourse laid out for her at the moment of her termination. It’s heartbreaking and enraging that so many trans* people and allies have had to work so hard and so long to gain what should be basic rights, but the progress they’ve made is proof that nothing will stop their progress towards the life that they, and all trans* people everywhere, deserve.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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10 Comments

  1. Way to knock it out of the park EEOC! Their processes are almost painfully slow (I could go on a rant about resources and staffing problems at this point), but at the end of the day trans individuals finally have recourse!

  2. Thankfully I found an employer who assured me that I won’t be fired for my trans* identity. But holy shit was I afraid during the initial job search. Actually I’m still afraid of losing my current job because it’s what making my dreams possible. I struck a gold mine here, I’d be afraid to search again so soon thereafter. Bravo to the EEOC. Now apply that shit federally!

  3. this is a fantastic step. it’s sad and gross that things like ENDA get stalled because groups of people, whether Congress or voters, are given a responsibility they’re too biased to consider fairly, but it’s great that a federal thing like the EEOC can make strides despite blocks. the legal precedent route is hopeful and I hope it can be effective.

  4. If I ever meet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission I’m going to high-five them. All of them.

    I mean, it’s going to take a while for this to have much material effect (*siiigh*) but it’s on paper, all official and everything!

  5. I’ve only recently entered the “adult” world and I’ve been nervous about showing my hairy legs at work now that it’s summer. And that’s JUST LEG HAIR, you know? For so may people this is livelihood, identity, life. Glad to here some progress is being made!

    (and oh hey! I know that kid with the sign!)

  6. The EEOC is a highly politicized agency, with the director and the 5 commissioners all being appointees of the Executive branch. President Obama had a hard time getting someone great like Chai Feldblum in as a commissioner. A right wing president could put people in there who would totally stonewall precedents like this. It’s not in any way a replacement for inclusive ENDA. The other issue with the EEOC is that it really hasn’t stood by the rights of contractors, temps and freelancers, the fastest growing workforce of the 21st Century economy. So this case is a step in the right direction, it’s great they even finally acknowledged that Title 7 includes gender identity and expression but I wouldn’t want anyone to count of it for protecting their rights.

    Also, as someone who’s encountered anti-trans termination in the workplace at least twice (even in a city and state which had legal protections against it) that most cases don’t involve an obvious instance of discrimination with a ‘smoking gun.’ This case, like the Diane Schroer case before it, were situations with high level professionals who were offered jobs when the applicants presented as male, then the offer was retracted when the employer was informed they were trans. Discrimination rarely happens in such an obvious and thoroughly documented way.

    • Ginasf, Diane and I were both lucky in that our adverse job actions were unambiguously motivated by our change in gender. I’m sorry for the two terminations you’ve endured. I hope the EEOC’s new policy makes things better for us all.

  7. I agree, it’s a good first step, but sexual orientation and gender identity protections need to be enshrined in law. Reminds me of my crazy Mormon-in-laws who argue that the purpose of the way our government works is to protect the minority from majority rule, except for LGBTQI (I hate the alphabet soup) issues.

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