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EEOC ruling on transgender rights triggers new call for ENDA

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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LGBT rights supporters are continuing to press for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, following a ruling this week from a U.S. agency expanding non-discrimination protections under existing law to include transgender workers.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, emphasized the need for passage of ENDA, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Masen Davis

Davis said ENDA would complement the ruling Monday from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that determined Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 covers gender identity.

“We still need ENDA,” Davis said. “This decision is incredibly important. It means that transgender people throughout the United States now have legal recourse … We need to make sure that we couple that with legal protections from Congress and the courts.”

Tobias Wolff, a gay law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the ruling doesn’t provide non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian workers — coverage that ENDA would provide. Additionally, Wolff said transgender workers could face discrimination based on sexual orientation if they’re in a same-sex relationship that an employer finds objectionable.

“If you’re a transgender lesbian, for example, then the question of whether you’re protected from discrimination based upon your gender identity is often put on the table at the same time the question of whether you’re protected from discrimination because you’re a lesbian,” Wolff said. “This ruling speaks to the first question; it doesn’t speak to the second question.”

LGBT organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued statements calling for the passage of ENDA after the EEOC decision was rendered.

HRC President Joe Solmonese said “it is critical” the entire LGBT community have “clear, strong protections against workplace discrimination in federal law.”

“Policymakers must take every step available to them to ensure all workers have a level playing field, including passage of an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the adoption of an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors,” Solmonese said.

EEOC made the ruling after the Obama administration was criticized by many in the LGBT community for deciding at this time against issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the advocates say they believe the two decisions are unrelated.

Davis said he “doesn’t see any connection” between the White House decision not to issue the executive order and the EEOC ruling affirming transgender workers’ rights.

“This case has been in process for over a year now,” Davis said. “This has been with EEOC for several months. The EEOC is an independent agency and the decision was made by the five appointed commissioners.”

That observation was verified by the White House. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the EEOC “reached their conclusion on their own.”

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