Indeed, just before the launch of the "Transparent" series, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed its first ever lawsuits alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals. On Sept. 25, the EEOC filed two separate discrimination actions - one against a Michigan-based funeral home and the other against a Florida-based eye clinic. Both lawsuits allege that the defendant employer fired a transgender employee for transitioning from male to female and not conforming to the employers gender-based expectations.
For some time now, discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation has been unlawful under Minnesota employment discrimination law and in a number of other states. Federal discrimination law, however, does not expressly prohibit such discrimination. Nevertheless, the EEOC has taken the position that the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses discrimination based on impermissible sex stereotyping and an individuals failure to meet gender expectations.
The EEOC has also made it clear that protecting GLBT individuals under Title VII is a top enforcement priority. The EEOCs recent lawsuits further this enforcement agenda and are the first time in history that the EEOC has sought to apply Title VII to transgender discrimination in court. While the merits of the cases at issue remain to be seen, other challenges to transgender discrimination have been successful in court. In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a victory for a former employee who claimed she was fired based on her intended transition from male to female, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, in 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that a transgender employee had an actionable discrimination claim under Title VII.
The EEOCs lawsuits are the latest in a growing movement to protect transgender people at work. On other fronts, President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order making it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Employers should take note of this trend and review their policies and practices, being mindful of the unique challenges that transgender individuals may face in the workplace. With the growing societal awareness of transgender issues, employers should expect to see more transgender discrimination claims filed by both individuals and the federal government.
The information contained in this post is provided to alert you to legal developments and should not be considered legal advice. It is not intended to and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Specific questions about how this information affects your particular situation should be addressed to one of the individuals listed. No representations or warranties are made with respect to this information, including, without limitation, as to its completeness, timeliness, or accuracy, and Lathrop GPM shall not be liable for any decision made in connection with the information. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.