In a historic ruling, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that job bias against 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 made the decision after the Obama administration was criticized by many in 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 the 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, noting “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.
“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,” Macy said. “I’m grateful for the help of Transgender Law Center, which believed in me from the start and helped guide me through this process. No one should be denied a job just for being who they are.”
Still, the case isn’t yet over for Macy. The case has been remanded to ATF for further processing in light of the decision. If Macy requests a final decision without a hearing, the agency must render a decision within 60 days of receipt of her request.
EEOC draws on previous decisions that courts have made on whether Title VII provides protections to workers who face discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Among them is the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in Glenn v. Brumby, in which plaintiff Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who was fired from her position as proofreader from the Georgia General Assembly in 2007 filed a lawsuit after she announced she would transition from male to female. The court ruled that an individual “cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender-nonconformity” and these protections must be afforded to transgender people.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the decision a “major victory” and said it would further the case of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar companies from discrimination against LGBT employees, and the sought-after executive order for federal contractors.
“As many as 90 percent of trans people still face tremendous discrimination in employment according to our National Discrimination Survey, and it will help so much that the EEOC agrees with what more and more courts have been saying — 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,” Keisling said.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the decision expands upon Executive Order 11246, the existing directive prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender.
“We call on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and her staff to issue new guidance for federal contractors to inform them that they cannot discriminate against transgender Americans while profiting from taxpayer-funded contracts,” Almeida said.
However, Almeida said Solis won’t have the authority to expand these protections to gay and lesbian Americans working for federal contractors until Obama “corrects the mistake announced by White House staff a few weeks ago” and issues an executive order for all LGBT workers at these companies.