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San Fran’s Trans Law Center Wins EEOC-Mandated Workplace Protections

by Shaun Knittel
Contributor
Friday Jun 8, 2012
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In a landmark ruling for transgender rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled last month that Title VII, the federal sex discrimination law, now protects employees who are discriminated against due to their gender identity.

"This is especially important for transgender employees in the 34 states that do not yet have nondiscrimination laws that explicitly include gender identity or expression, said a spokesperson from the Transgender Law Center.

On April 20, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued the unprecedented decision in response to a case brought by the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center on behalf of their client, Mia Macy.

Macy, a former police detective, was denied a job as a ballistics technician with the Walnut Creek, California laboratory of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) right after she came out as transgender. The EEOC concluded that "intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ’based on ... sex’" in violation of federal law.

"As a veteran and a police officer, I’ve worked my whole career to uphold the values of fairness and equality," said Macy. "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."

The EEOC is the federal agency that interprets and enforces federal employment discrimination law, and this decision marks the first time they have offered clear guidance on the issue of discrimination against transgender employees. In other words, because of this decision, every transgender and gender non-conforming person in the United States now has access to legal protection through the EEOC if they experience employment discrimination because of their gender identity or expression.

The EEOC’s decision is even more significant than a court decision, because the EEOC is the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing federal discrimination laws throughout the nation. It will impact every employer, public and private, throughout the country. The decision will be entitled to significant deference by the courts, and is binding on all federal agencies.

Ilona Turner, legal director, Transgender Law Center, told EDGE this decision is "a game changer for transgender people in this country."

"Although the discrimination was painful...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," said Mia Macy.

"We are so grateful for our client Mia Macy’s courage in stepping forward to bring her discrimination case," said Turner. "Because she was willing to stand up and do something, the whole community now can benefit from this amazing decision."

Macy was similarly appreciative, saying, "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."

According to Turner, things are definitely getting better for trans people in the United States, although there is still a lot of work to be done.

A 2011 poll showed that nearly three-fourths of voters (73 percent) now support protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws to protect transgender people from discrimination, but 34 states still lack those explicit legal protections. Transgender people also face frequent discrimination and harassment on the job, in health care, in schools and in accessing identification documents that match their gender identity.

The EEOC’s decision is hugely significant in regards to the transgender community’s fight to have Congress pass a transgender inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act because it provides a real remedy for trans or gender nonconforming people who face employment discrimination anywhere in the country.

"In order to ensure that employers are aware of their responsibilities and transgender people know their rights, we still need states and the federal government to pass nondiscrimination laws that explicitly state that discrimination based on gender identity and expression is illegal," said Turner.

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said, "This is a major victory. As many as 90 percent of trans people still face tremendous discrimination in employment according to our National Discrimination Survey, and it will help so much that the EEOC agrees with what more and more courts have been saying, that discriminating against trans people because of their sex, or their perceived sex, or what an employer thinks about their sex is clearly sex discrimination, illegal and wrong."

Marsha Botzer, founder and board member of Ingersoll Gender Center and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force co-chair, told EDGE it takes time to understand the truth about what gender identity is and is not.

"This ruling shows that with honesty and courage, even the biggest systems can see that there is nothing to fear, and only justice to gain, from respecting and protecting the transgender experience," said Botzer.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.

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