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EEOC ruling protects transgender workers from discrimination

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
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In a historic ruling, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that job bias against transgender employees on the basis of gender identity amounts to sex discrimination under existing law.

The determination came about as part of the resolution of a case filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who allegedly was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s laboratory in Walnut Creek, Calif., after she announced she was transitioning from male to female. The decision, made unanimously by the commission on a 5-0 vote, was made public Monday evening.

“[W]e conclude that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because the person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex,’ and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII,” the decision states.

EEOC is the federal agency that interprets and enforces federal non-discrimination laws. Its decision on transgender workers applies to both public and private employers throughout the United States, including in the 34 states where non-discrimination laws based on gender identity don’t exist.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Various courts have determined that transgender workers are protected against discrimination on the basis of this statute, but the decision on Monday marks the first time the EEOC has decided the law protects transgender workers.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said the significance of the decision is “hard to overstate.”

“Transgender people already face tremendous rates of discrimination and unemployment,” Davis said. “The decision today ensures that every transgender person in the United States will have legal recourse to employment discrimination, and with it a way to safeguard their access to vital employment benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings plans.”

EEOC makes the decision after the Obama administration took flak from 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. The EEOC decision could provide a path to provide transgender workers seeking a remedy against discrimination in lieu of the executive order.

While still presenting as male, Macy, a veteran and former police detective, was told in January 2011 she would receive a position she wanted at the Walnut Creek crime laboratory. As evidence of her impeding hire, Aspen of DC, the contractor responsible for filling the position, contacted her to begin the necessary paperwork and said an investigator was performing a background check.

But after informing the contractor in March 2011 that she would transition from male to female, Macy received an email from the contractor stating that position, due to federal budget constraints, had been cut. Later, she was told someone else was awarded the position.

Believing she had faced job discrimination, Macy on June 13 filed a formal complaint with the EO for the agency, typing in “gender identity” and “sex stereotyping” as the basis of her complaint. After some back-and-forth between Macy and the agency over whether she could seek relief under Title VII, Macy appealed the case in December to EEOC, which determined the law offers her protection as well as protection to other transgender workers.

In a statement, Macy thanked the Transgender Law Center for its support and said she was “proud” to be part of the groundbreaking decision.

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