News (USA)

From the courtroom to the boardroom: trans attorney leads rights group

“The handwriting is on the wall,” says attorney Jillian Weiss, newly named executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. The tenured academic, trial attorney and scholar was named Tuesday to lead the trans rights group at what she tells LGBTQ Nation is a critical turning point in the movement.

“The Supreme Court is going to face a decision in the next year on transgender rights, and who knows who will be serving on the bench. I want to live in a world where trans people can live full lives,” she tells LGBTQ Nation. 

Weiss is no stranger to the experience of being discriminated against for being transgender. She had this to say in a statement released Tuesday by TLDEF:

“As a transgender woman myself, I have experienced discrimination first hand. I am determined to combat systemic discrimination that inordinately burdens trans people, particularly people of color and others caught at the intersection of multiple forms of prejudice, such as race, class and gender bias. I am honored to bring the totality of my experience to bear as TLDEF’s new Executive Director.”

Weiss is also a past board member of Lambda Legal, has been Chair of the annual Trans Law Symposium, and has consulted with private and public organizations regarding gender identity policy and employee gender transitions, including Harvard University, Boeing and New York City.

But it is in the courtroom where Weiss made history.

Jillian has a powerful track record of fighting for the rights of transgender people in the workplace. Her cases have resulted in landmark settlements and rulings increasing protections for transgender employees and sending an unmistakable message that employment bias will not be tolerated,” Alaina Kupec and Joseph A. Hall, co-chairs, TLDEF Board of Directors, said in the group’s statement.

Among Weiss’s many milestones are employment discrimination cases against Saks Fifth Avenue and Lakeland Eye Clinic, the latter of which resulted in a six-figure settlement. Weiss teamed up with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on that court battle, and with the EEOC in bringing a transgender employment discrimination lawsuit against Deluxe Financial Services, Inc., one of the nation’s largest check-printing companies. The suit resulted in a large settlement and sweeping workplace policy changes at the company.

“I have dedicated my career to fighting for the rights of the trans community through my legal and academic work,” said Weiss. “At a time when our community faces an all-out legislative assault focused on issues like bathroom access, I am committed to ensuring that all trans people have the freedom to live authentic lives.

“Since the time I started working on employment cases in 2011, when it was just an uphill battle every time, it’s become something where the EEOC has weighed-in, the Justice Department has weighed-in, and courts have weighed-in, that trans people have rights. And now that show is on the road!

“TLDEF is the opportunity to get involved in so many areas, still struggling with no glimmer of light from the courts, and that’s a lot more than workplace discrimination. I’m going to be playing in the whole wide field of trans rights, and it’s a big world.”

Weiss succeeds Michael Silverman, who founded the organization in 2003 and will assist in the transition.

Jillian is a tremendous advocate for transgender equality with an extraordinary list of transgender rights accomplishments,” Silverman said in the TLDEF statement. “She brings the exact qualities necessary to lead TLDEF into the next decade. I am confident the organization is in good hands with Jillian at the helm.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: the author of this article was represented by Jillian Weiss in a workplace discrimination case in 2014, and subsequently worked for Weiss as a part-time public relations liaison in 2014 and 2015. 

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