August 19, 2014 at 5:54 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Labor Dept. issues guidance to protect trans workers
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has issued guidance protecting transgender workers.(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has issued guidance protecting transgender workers. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Labor Department issued guidance on Tuesday spelling out that the Obama administration will interpret an executive order prohibiting gender discrimination in the workforce to protect transgender workers.

The news was announced via White House blog post written by Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. It’s titled “Strength in Diversity.”

“It means honoring our commitment to upholding equality in America’s workforce,” Shiu writes. “Being entrusted with taxpayer dollars is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a promise to open doors to all of America’s workers. I believe that success for OFCCP and for federal contractors isn’t simply about compliance. It’s about creating a workplace culture that actively embraces diversity.”

The guidance is based off a 2012 decision by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the case of Macy v. Holder, which determined that transgender workers are eligible for protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a result of that decision, the Labor Department indicates in its guidance that it’ll enforce Executive Order 11246 — which prohibits federal contractors from engaging in gender discrimination — to protect against employment bias based on gender identity.

But the guidance wasn’t handed down from the Labor Department until more than two years after the Macy decision. LGBT advocates had pushed the Obama administration to clarify that transgender workers are protected under current policy as Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said the matter was “under review.” In June, Perez announced the review had come to an end and forthcoming guidance would indicate gender identity would be covered under current policy.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended the Labor Department for issuing the guidance and said companies without explicit protections for transgender workers should update their policies.

“We applaud Labor Secretary Perez and OFCCP Director Shiu for this tremendously important stand in favor of workplace fairness for transgender Americans, and the ball is now in the court of holdout corporations like ExxonMobil and their defense lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw who should convince that corporation that it’s long past time to update their workplace policies,” Almeida said. “Today’s announcement should give Seyfarth Shaw lawyers yet another reason to persuade Exxon to do the right thing.”

Still forthcoming from the Labor Department are regulations to implement the Executive Order 13672, which President Obama signed in July to explicitly spell out that federal contractors are unable to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order is expected to take effect early next year.

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, also had high praise for the Obama administration for issuing the guidance.

“Everyone should have the same opportunity to earn a living and provide for their families, without fear of being fired simply for being who they are,” Silverman said. “For the many transgender people who work for federal contractors, this brings a great sense of peace in knowing that their job security will be based on performance, and not gender identity.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • brians ions

    Still forthcoming from the Labor Department are regulations to implement the Executive Order 13672, which President Obama signed in July to explicitly spell out that federal contractors are unable to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order is expected to take effect early next year.
    ========== 
    It’s necessary, of course. But the larger value of placing the power of the Executive Branch behind workplace equality and other LGBT civil rights protections is to establish a broad, national sensibility that anti-LGBT discrimination is wrongful management.
     
    Moreover, that larger, secondary impact is nearly immediate — and within the most conservative areas of the country, too. Suddenly discriminators in smaller cities and rural areas are becoming acutely aware that a spotlight that matters is being shone on previously ignored discriminatory habits.
     
    Discrimination is bad for business. Smart managers try to get ahead of that problem.
     
    Whether it be the management of hospitals and clinics responding ACA non-discrimination provisions or managers of widely varied federal contractors of all sizes, many are moving quickly to affirmatively hire LGBT people now. It is a noticeable, visible change, too.

    Accordingly, ‘secondary’ kudos are also due the Obama Administration.
    ;)

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