The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled in an opinion issued Tuesday that transgender people are protected from discrimination by federal law.
The EEOC found that an employer discriminating against a worker or potential worker on the basis of gender identity is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a landmark ruling that offers vital protection to trans workers because, while a number of federal courts have issued similar decisions in the past, this is the first time the EEOC has ruled on this issue.
The ruling came as a result of plaintiff Mia Macy, a veteran and former police detective, who was denied a job she had been virtually guaranteed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) solely because of her gender transition.
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. Ms. 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, 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. 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.”
Transgender Law Center’s Legal Director Ilona Turner explained, “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.”
The ruling has been praised by LGBT rights groups.
“This is a historic victory for transgender people and their families — and it couldn’t come too soon. Our national survey on transgender discrimination found staggering levels of workplace discrimination against transgender Americans. This jeopardizes their ability to have or keep a job, have a roof over their head, and feed and take care of their family.
“We applaud the EEOC for this opinion and congratulate the Transgender Law Center for its work leading to this victory. Special thanks to Mia for her courage. Transgender people across the nation will now know that they are protected by federal law and have legal recourse if they are denied a job or fired just because of who they are.
The Task Force goes on to say however that the EEOC ruling is not a replacement for legislative action. There are currently 34 states that don’t have trans-inclusive employment protections. A trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would remedy this.
The Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, a groundbreaking report that for the first time attempted to give a voice to the hardships trans Americans face because of a lack of legal protections, showed that 26% of trans people report losing their jobs just because of their identity, and that 90% experience mistreatment, discrimination or hide who they are at work in order to avoid being on the receiving end of prejudice.