Sex. Gender. Employment Discrimination.

One woman’s successful lawsuit against the Library of Congress could spell more legal victories for transgender employees across the country.

BY Jen Christensen

November 05 2008 12:00 AM ET

“Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism,” Robertson wrote. “Imagine too that her employer testified that he harbors no bias toward either Christians or Jews but only ‘converts.’ That would be a clear case of discrimination ‘because of religion.’ No court would take seriously the notion that ‘converts’ are not covered by the statute.”

Although attorneys for the Library of Congress offered expert testimony from a psychologist who said that “gender identity” was distinct from “sex” and therefore Schroer wasn’t entitled to legal protection -- the ACLU’s witness said that gender identity was a component of sex -- Robertson said such a distinction was irrelevant. After all, he asserted, “the Library was enthusiastic about hiring David Schroer -- until she disclosed her transsexuality.”

It didn’t help, Robertson added, that the decision “was infected by sex stereotypes,” something he said is also illegal under Title VII. The supervisor who hired Schroer, Charlotte Preece, testified that she couldn’t understand why the former Special Forces officer would want to become a woman, given what a masculine man he was.

Discrimination against transgender workers, of course, doesn’t end with this ruling, no matter how groundbreaking it is. Trans-related employment discrimination cases have been on the rise, a “side effect of visibility as more and more transgender people come out,” Thaler says. “The upside is judges are finally starting to understand this discrimination is very real -- and with this case and others, we now have a good legal argument to stop it.”

Thaler will see the impact of the Schroer decision firsthand in the case of his client Vandiver Elizabeth “Vandy Beth” Glenn. A former employee of the Georgia general assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel, Glenn was fired “on the spot” once she told the office director she intended to transition to female, Lambda Legal officials say. At the time her lawsuit was filed in federal court last July, Glenn said that in dismissing her, the director told her that coworkers would be uncomfortable and that legislators would see her transitioning as immoral. Preece, Schroer’s supervisor, made similar remarks.

Thaler hopes the Schroer ruling will help Glenn win justice too, but he’s still cautious. “The interpretation [Robertson] made—while solid and accessible—may not be made by other judges,” he says. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he adds, “to make sure there’s no room for ambiguity.”

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