ATLANTA — LGBT advocates are hailing a federal appellate court ruling as a significant win for transgender rights and a means to provide recourse to others who face discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that the Georgia Legislature had unlawfully discriminated against Vandy Beth Glenn for firing her as bill proofreader in 2007 after she informed supervisors she intended to transition from male to female.
“An individual cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender-nonconformity,” the court decision states. “Because these protections are afforded to everyone, they cannot be denied to a transgender individual.”
Judge Rosemary Barkett, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, which included Judge William Pryor and Senior Judge Phyllis Kravitch, determined the General Assembly’s Legislative Counsel, Sewell Brumby, violated Glenn’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause.
Lambda Legal had filed the case, known as Glenn v. Brumby, on behalf of Glenn in July 2008. In 2010, a district court had ruled previously in Glenn’s favor.
The court ruled in favor of Glenn even though no federal law is in place that specifically protects transgender people against discrimination in the workplace.
LGBT advocates see the ruling as significant because it could help make the case to bar discrimination against trans people in other situations.
Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, said the decision advances other court rulings that have determined discrimination based on gender non-conformity amounts to sex discrimination by applying the potential protections to more people.
“It makes it extend beyond the more narrow definition of gender identity,” Hunter said. “I think it applies more broadly than to persons who have undergone surgery or hormonal treatment. That’s my sense of how the decision can be used. It is not explicit in the decision but the court used gender non-conformity, and the phrase gender-based behavioral norms, and I think that’s a very important development.”