A recent decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has significantly increased workplace protections for transgender employees. In a landmark ruling on April 20, the EEOC declared that discrimination against someone because they are transgender violates Title VII protections against sex discrimination. It stems from a discrimination charge filed by Mia Macy, a transgender woman.
Macy applied for a position with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) while she was still presenting as a man. She was informed that she would be hired pending a background investigation. In the interest of transparency, she told the investigators that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female, and asked them to inform the ATF of the change. Shortly thereafter, she was informed that due to federal budget reductions, the position was no longer available. She later learned that someone else had been hired for that exact position.
Ms. Macy submitted a discrimination charge with the EEOC, selecting “sex” and “female” as the categories of discrimination. She typed in “gender identity” and “sex stereotyping” as the basis for her complaint, which resulted in an initial rejection as the EEOC stated those added categories were outside its jurisdiction. Ms. Macy’s attorney appealed that determination, resulting in a unanimous ruling that when an employer discriminates against someone because the person is transgender, the employer has engaged in disparate treatment “related to the sex of the victim.”
This decision is a major step forward in recognizing the rights of transgender Americans. The right to work is fundamental, and this federal ruling creates a much stronger protection for this oft-neglected minority. More work must be done, however. As Lisa Mottet, Transgender Civil Rights Project Director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted:
Although the ruling should be given at least some deference by federal courts, it is not the final say, and it cannot be guaranteed that this interpretation will ultimately be adopted by the Supreme Court… If Congress would pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it would cause employers throughout the country to update their non-discrimination policies with ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ conduct training for hiring officers and supervisors, and would mean that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ would be listed with the other protected characteristics on the ‘Know Your Rights’ posters in the break room. Yes, legal recourse and being able to go to the EEOC are important, but when 78 percent of transgender people are experiencing mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination in the workplace, we need change on a much higher order — the kind of change that will only come with passage of a federal law.
Still, we should celebrate progress as it comes and use this great moment to raise awareness of the stronger change still needed. The Transgender Law Center has a good overview of the impact of the ruling and the full text of it is available here.