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HR Soapbox

Transgender people are protected under job discrimination law, says EEOC

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Patrick DiDomenico

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in HR Soapbox

In what transgender groups are labeling as an “historic” and “landmark” ruling, the EEOC said on April 20 that job discrimination against an employee or applicant based on the person’s gender identity is unlawful under the federal job discrimination law.

The EEOC ruling said that “discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex,’ and such discrimination  … violates Title VII” of the federal Civil Rights Act.

While some courts have reached the same conclusion, enforcement of federal employment law has been inconsistent when it comes to transgender people. This decision sets a national enforcement standard that the EEOC will follow.

According to the Los Angeles TImes, the EEOC said the ruling is now "the EEOC's position, and we will apply it in all our enforcement activities" under Title VII, which prohibits job discrimination based on race, sex, religion and national origin.

The ruling involved a discrimination claim filed by Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied a job as a ballistic technician at a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) labratory in California.

Macy applied for the job as a man and was told the job would likely be won. But when she went through a gender transition to a female, she was told that the funding for the position had been cut, so she did not get the job.

The EEOC says this ruling does not create a brand new cause of action. Instead, it clarifies that charges of sex discrimination by transgender people can be considered sex discrimination under current federal employment discrimination law. The ruling also didn’t determine that Macy was discriminated against in this case, only that the law allows her to bring a discrimination charge in this case.

Nearly a third of state laws (16 states) and the District of Columbia have their own laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.  

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