Huge Breakthrough from EEOC: Trans Workers Protect

Tue. April 24, 2012 12:00 AM
by Waymon Hudson

In what is being described as a landmark ruling for transgender rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that Title VII also protects transgender workers. The EEOC concluded that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that protects employees from sex discrimination, any employer who discriminates against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person's gender identity is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination. The decision applies to both public and private employers throughout the country.

The 5-0, bipartisan ruling follows a clear trend by federal courts in recent years holding that transgender people are protected by Title VII, but this is the first time the EEOC has ruled that anti-transgender discrimination is sex discrimination. But legal analysts and trans rights advocates say it has even broader implications than a court decision since the EEOC is the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing federal discrimination laws throughout the nation. The decision is entitled to significant deference by the courts in transgender discrimination cases and will also be binding on all federal agencies.

The ruling came as a result of a discrimination complaint filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the Walnut Creek, California laboratory of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Ms. Macy, a veteran and former police detective, initially applied for the position as male and was told that she virtually was guaranteed the job. After disclosing her gender transition mid-way through the hiring process, Ms. Macy was told that funding for that position had been suddenly cut. She later learned that someone else had been hired for the job.

In response to the EEOC's decision, Ms. Macy stated, "As a veteran and a police officer, I've worked my whole career to uphold the values of fairness and equality. Although the discrimination I experienced was painful both personally and financially, and led to the loss of my family's home to foreclosure, I'm proud to be a part of this groundbreaking decision confirming that our nation's employment discrimination laws protect all Americans, including transgender people. No one should be denied a job just for being who they are."

The Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Mara Keisling stressed the importance of the EEOC's decision. "This is a major victory... It will help so much that the EEOC agrees with what more and more courts have been saying, that discriminating against trans people because of their sex, or their perceived sex, or what an employer thinks about their sex is clearly sex discrimination, illegal and wrong," said Keisling. "This ruling is a major advancement in transgender rights that will provide a significant tool to fight discrimination. It will also help us advocate for still needed protections like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the federal contractors executive order."

Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Discrimination Survey found that 78 percent of transgender Americans say they've experienced workplace discrimination at some point in time. The problem has been compounded by the fact that 34 states that do not yet have gender identity anti-discrimination laws.

Masen Davis, Transgender Law Center's Executive Director, summed up the importance of the landmark ruling by saying, "The EEOC's decision ensures that every transgender person in the United States will have legal recourse when faced with employment discrimination. This is a game changer for transgender America."