EEOC: Title VII protects transgender workers

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Mia Macy and wife Trish. - PHOTO: TLC

Activists are heralding as landmark an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that Title VII, the federal sex discrimination law, protects employees who are discriminated against because they are transgender.

The decision was signed on April 20.

The EEOC, in a case filed by the Transgender Law Center, concluded that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex’ and such discrimination … violates Title VII.”

The EEOC is the federal agency that interprets and enforces federal employment discrimination law, and this decision marks the first time it has offered clear guidance on this issue.

The ruling came as a result of a discrimination complaint filed by TLC on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the Walnut Creek, Calif., laboratory of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

TLC said that Macy, a military veteran and former police detective, initially applied for the position as male and was told that she virtually was guaranteed the job.

The TLC argued that that Macy was exceptionally qualified for the position, having a military and law enforcement background and being one of the few people in the country who had already been trained on ATF’s ballistics computer system.

After disclosing her gender transition mid-way through the hiring process, Macy was told that funding for the position had been suddenly cut. She later learned that someone else had been hired for the job.

Macy, responding to the EEOC ruling, said, “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.”

TLC said the decision follows a trend by federal courts in recent years holding that transgender people are protected by Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination. But the EEOC finding has even broader implications than a court decision because the EEOC is the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing federal discrimination laws throughout the nation.

TLC legal director Ilona Turner said, “It’s incredibly significant that the commission has finally put its stamp of approval on the common-sense understanding that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination. That’s true whether it’s understood as discrimination because of the person’s gender identity, or because they have changed their sex, or because they don’t conform to other people’s stereotypes of how men and women ought to be.”  

Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates celebrated the ruling: “Today’s decision helps our discrimination laws fulfill their purpose of ensuring that no one loses a job based on sex. Women have fought for decades to be judged in the workplace by our abilities, not by our sex, gender identity or gender stereotypes. We are thrilled that the EEOC has confirmed that Title VII protects transgender people from job discrimination, thanks to the work of Transgender Law Center.”

At the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., president Joe Solmonese said, “This ruling is a major step forward in protecting the LGBT community from workplace discrimination. We know that transgender people are among the most vulnerable members of our community and suffer widespread discrimination, including in employment.  We applaud the EEOC for its historic ruling, congratulate Transgender Law Center on this victory and thank Mia Macy for her courage and perseverance.”

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