Arguing that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination covers transgender employees, the EEOC successfully pursued a bias claim filed by an employee who was fired shortly after beginning a transition from male to female.
The case ended with a six-figure settlement, putting employers on notice that federal law covers transgender employees.
In that case, a hearing specialist at a Florida eye clinic began the gender transition process six months after being hired. Doctors at the clinic stopped referring patients to her and she was ultimately terminated as part of what the clinic called a reduction in force.
She complained to the EEOC, which investigated and determined that the RIF was merely a pretext for sex discrimination. In fact, two months later, the clinic hired someone else to fill the position. The settlement requires the clinic to pay the former employee $150,000.
The EEOC is pursuing a similar transgender discrimination complaint against a Detroit funeral home.
The issue in these two cases is gender stereotyping. Over the last several years, courts have consistently ruled that gender stereotyping violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Gender stereotyping, however, is different than discrimination based on sexual orientation. Currently, no federal law protects private employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Federal contractors are now required to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in their equal opportunity statements.
Considering recent court decisions on the subject and the EEOC’s position, all employers should consider including gender identity in their equal opportunity and anti-discrimination policies.
Final note: Some states and municipalities also have specific protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees. Consult with your attorney when revising your anti-discrimination policies to ensure they comply with all applicable laws.