It’s business as usual, even after sex change

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a tip for handling em­­ployees undergoing sex changes: Make sure the employee isn’t har­­assed and that it’s business as usual in the workplace. Treat the employee as you always have and don’t fear legitimate discipline or an evaluation based on performance.

Recent case: When Janis was hired as an engineer, she had a traditional masculine appearance, wore male clothing, and went by the name Jim. In 2002, she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID), which arises from a profound divergence between an individual’s birth sex and his or her inner gender identity. Janis began undergoing treatment, which included psychological counseling and hormonal therapy. By 2005, she was making a full transition to female, undergoing multiple surgeries and dressing as a woman.

Around the same time, the company was preparing for a reduction in force. Using evaluations and a list of skills that it felt were critical for engineers, it ranked Janis last in her engineering group. She was therefore terminated.

She sued, claiming gender dis­­crimination and alleging she had been singled out because of her unconventional appearance.

A jury disagreed and she appealed. Now the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the jury verdict, concluding that Janis had no evidence that her gender change had any influence on the layoff decision. (Stacy v. LSI Corporation, No. 12-3756, 3rd Cir., 2013)

Final note: By focusing on ability, skills and training, the employer handled the case just right. It allowed Janis to make the transformation to female without comment and simply treated her as it treated other engineers. By focusing on what’s important in the workplace, it showed the jury that the sex change had nothing to do with its business decision to reduce the workforce in a challenging business environment.

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