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NJLAD transgender protections could get first court test

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in Discrimination and Harassment

A man who underwent gender-reassignment treatment is suing his Camden employer in a case that could mark the first test of New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protections for transgender people.

El’Jai Devoureau in April sued Urban Treatment Cen­ters after the center fired him. Devoureau was born female, but five years ago began sex-change counseling and started receiving male hormone treatments. In 2009, he had gender-reassignment surgery. His driver’s license, birth certificate and Social Security cards have all been reissued to reflect that he’s a man.

Urban Treatment Centers hired Devoureau to monitor men as they provided urine samples, a job that is open only to men.

According to Devoureau, he went through one day of training. When he reported to work the next day, a manager asked if he was man. He said he was, and the manager then asked if he had undergone any surgeries. When he refused to answer, Devoureau claims he was fired.

The NJLAD was amended in 2007 to prohibit discrimination against transgender people. Before then, trans­gender status was not a protected class.

In a response to the lawsuit, the company maintained that it was appropriate to remove Devoureau from the job because only men were allowed to hold the position.

Note: If this case goes to court, it will set a benchmark for transgender and gender-identity discrimination cases in New Jersey.

The employer’s argument that it did not regard Devoureau as a man because of his birth gender seems dubious. Plus, it’s likely that the manager violated the ADA and the NJLAD when she asked if Devoureau has undergone surgery.

Federal law does not protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, transgender status or gender identity, but state law does. Employers should train their supervisors accordingly.

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