An employer who discriminates on the basis of gender identity or expression is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination, according to an April 20 ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Transgender and gender-queer people are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the commission ruling stated. The opinion could dramatically alter the legal landscape for transgender workers across the nation, including in Utah. However, this ruling does not apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is still legal in many states, including many parts of Utah.
The EEOC concluded that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on…sex’ and such discrimination…violates Title VII.” The EEOC is the federal agency that interprets and enforces federal employment discrimination law, and the decision marks the first time it has offered clear guidance on this issue.
The ruling came as a result of a discrimination complaint filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the Walnut Creek, Calif. laboratory of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Macy, a veteran and former police detective, initially applied for the position as male and was told that she was guaranteed the job. She was exceptionally qualified for the position, having a military and law enforcement background and being one of the few people in the country who had already been trained on ATF’s ballistics computer system. After disclosing her gender transition during the hiring process, Macy was told that funding for that position had been suddenly cut. She later learned that someone else had been hired for the job.
“As a veteran and a police detective, I’ve worked my whole career to uphold the values of fairness and equality. Although the discrimination I experienced was painful both personally and financially, and led to the loss of my family’s home to foreclosure, I’m proud to be a part of this groundbreaking decision confirming that our nation’s employment discrimination laws protect all Americans, including transgender people,” Macy said in the hearing. “I’m grateful for the help of Transgender Law Center, which believed in me from the start and helped guide me through this process. No one should be denied a job just for being who they are.”
Transgender Law Center’s legal director Ilona Turner explained, “It’s incredibly significant that the Commission has finally put its stamp of approval on the common-sense understanding that discrimination against transgender people is a form of sex discrimination. That’s true whether it’s understood as discrimination because of the person’s gender identity, or because they have changed their sex, or because they don’t conform to other people’s stereotypes of how men and women ought to be.”