Recent EEOC ruling stregthens Trans Employment Protections

| May 11, 2012 | Comments (1)

As a result of a lawsuit filed by our friends at the Transgender Law Center, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in a recent landmark decision ruled that transgender people are protected by a federal statute’s (Title VII) prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace.  On Friday, April 20, 2012, the EEOC issued a ruling that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual is discrimination “based on … sex” and thus violates Title VII. Prior to this ruling, the EEOC generally declined to pursue discrimination claims that arose from transgender status or gender identity issues.

What does the recent EEOC decision mean for transgender people in Oregon?

In California, Oregon and Washington, state laws have protections for transgender employees by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. This ruling will strengthen those protections: transgender employees with discrimination claims can now bring both state and federal claims, instead of being limited to a state court action.

For trans folk in all states, the EEOC ruling provides new protections and is an important reminder of the evolving law of sex-based discrimination.

Facts of the case

Mia Macy, a transgender woman, applied for a position with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). At the time she applied, she was still presenting as a man. She was informed that she would be hired pending a background investigation. Ms. Macy submitted the paperwork for that investigation on March 28, 2011. On March 29, she sent an email informing the company responsible for the background check that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female, and asked the company to inform the ATF of the change. Shortly thereafter, she was informed that due to federal budget reductions, the position was no longer available. She later learned that someone else had been hired for the position.

Ms. Macy submitted a discrimination charge with the EEOC, selecting “sex” and “female” as the categories of discrimination. She typed in “gender identity” and “sex stereotyping” as the basis for her complaint. The EEOC declined to process her claim because gender identity and sex stereotyping were not within its jurisdiction. Ms. Macy’s attorney appealed that determination, resulting in a landmark unanimous ruling from the EEOC that when an employer discriminates against someone because the person is transgender, the employer has engaged in disparate treatment “related to the sex of the victim.” To read the full decision, please click here.

It should also be noted that the EEOC ruling does not eliminate the need for federal non-discrimination legislation. As Lisa Mottet, Transgender Civil Rights Project Director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted: “Although the ruling should be given at least some deference by federal courts, it is not the final say, and it cannot be guaranteed that this interpretation will ultimately be adopted by the Supreme Court. Secondly, and more importantly, a law would cause a cascade of cultural change that an EEOC ruling just cannot do by itself. If Congress would pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it would cause employers throughout the country to update their non-discrimination policies with ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ conduct training for hiring officers and supervisors, and would mean that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ would be listed with the other protected characteristics on the ‘Know Your Rights’ posters in the break room. Yes, legal recourse and being able to go to the EEOC are important, but when 78 percent of transgender people are experiencing mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination in the workplace, we need change on a much higher order — the kind of change that will only come with passage of a federal law.”

To find out more about legal rights effecting transgender people in Oregon, please check out our Know Your Rights Guide by clicking here.

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Category: News: Transgender Justice

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