The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's recent decision that transgender people are protected from employment discrimination by Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is a tremendous victory for our community.
The decision was issued in response to a discrimination complaint filed by Transgender Law Center on behalf of our client Mia Macy, who was denied a job with a federal agency after she came out as transgender. This groundbreaking decision marks the first time that the EEOC — the federal agency charged with interpreting and enforcing federal sex discrimination law — has ruled that transgender people have a legal remedy for workplace discrimination and harassment based upon gender identity. The EEOC’s decision follows the strong trend in recent federal court decisions that have similarly held that sex discrimination laws like Title VII protect transgender employees.
Practically speaking, this means that when transgender people go to work, they can be confident that if they experience discrimination because of their gender identity, they have legal protection. They can go to an EEOC office anywhere in the country and file a discrimination complaint, and the EEOC will investigate and prosecute that complaint to the fullest extent of its authority. Previously, the remedies available to transgender people who experienced discrimination depended upon where they lived. Currently, only 16 states and the District of Columbia have employment nondiscrimination laws that explicitly protect transgender workers. The EEOC’s decision applies to all employers, public and private, that have 15 or more employees throughout the United States.
Just as important, the decision should have a preemptory effect as well. In addition to interpreting and enforcing federal nondiscrimination law, EEOC decisions provide guidance to employers about how to maintain a workplace that complies with federal law. This decision sends a clear message to employers that they have a duty to maintain a workplace free from discrimination and harassment based upon gender identity.
This decision was critically needed, given the high rates of unemployment and underemployment that transgender people face due to job discrimination. For example, a recent survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that 78% of transgender survey respondents had experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace because of their gender identity. The decision in Mia’s case will go a long way toward combating that kind of mistreatment.
MATT WOOD is a staff attorney for the Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco-based legal advocacy group that represents Macy.