Transportation Security Administration (TSA) managers at Los Angeles International Airport airport will undergo sensitivity training as part of an out-of-court settlement over the firing of Ashley Yang whose contract as a TSA officer was terminated in July 2010 following two years of harassment and discrimination from fellow employees and members of the public because of her being a transgender woman.
The Transgender Law Center took on Miss Yang’s case and argued the TSA had engaged in sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Recognizing the merits of this claim, the TSA entered into a settlement agreement which, one year on, sees Ms. Yang receive financial compensation and a guarantee that TSA managers at LAX will receive transgender sensitivity training.
A month after hiring Ashley Yang, TSA managers informed her that she would be required to start working as a male and that failure to do so could result in disciplinary actions. They required this of Ms. Yang, despite the fact that she informed TSA that she is a transgender woman and after they hired her as a woman.
To keep her job Ms. Yang bought a short “male wig” to hide her long hair, complied with TSA’s male dress code, and pretended to be a man at work. Despite her efforts, passengers continued to recognize her as a woman and subjected to her to sexual harassment. Ms. Yang was fired almost two years after being hired and just five days before the end of the standard TSA probationary period.
“TSA will be a better agency by taking steps to make sure this never happens again,” said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Unfortunately, what happened to Ashley is not an uncommon experience for transgender employees. We are advocating for the TSA to expand their employee trainings across the country and to change their policies in regard to transgender employees.”
“Working for the TSA was my way of contributing to society,” says Yang. “I valued talking with passengers and was inspired by helping to protect people and making sure they are safe.”
As Ms. Yang worked at the checkpoint pretending to be male, she was subject to lewd comments from male passengers who recognized her as a woman. For example, one passenger said “a little lower there, darling” while she patted him down. Other comments include “I reaaaally enjoyed that pat-down,” “a pat down much lower on my back,” and “I haven’t gotten this much attention from a girl in a while.”
Ms. Yang was fired from her job on July 1, 2010, just five days before the end of her trial period. She was not fired for job performance. She was fired by TSA for being who she is and not being able to pass as a man. She was fired despite only missing two days of work in two years, enduring harassment, and attempting to comply with degrading requests by the TSA to adopt a more “male look.”
While this case represents a significant step forward, the Transgender Law Center is keen to stress the need for the TSA to update all policies and practices throughout the United States to ensure that all workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
“No one should have to choose between their gender and their job,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Every employee has a right to expect the opportunity to work hard, to provide for themselves and their families, and to do this in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Ashley was fired simply for being who she is. In this economy where jobs are scarce, this isn’t only unfair and unkind, it is cruel.”