EEOC Rules Transgender People Protected Against Job Discrimination Under Civil Rights Act

Mia Macy thought she was a shoo-in for a ballistics technician job in the Walnut Creek laboratory of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. She had experience in the military and law enforcement and was one of a select few who had been trained on the Bureau’s ballistics computer system.

Mia and Trish Macy (Transgender Law Center)
“It was perfect for me because it was the exact same job that I was doing for them just as a civilian and it was in the same equipment that I’d been using,” Macy said in a conference call on Tuesday. “There were very few of us that were certified in this equipment.”

Macy applied for the job as a man, and was told the position was hers pending a background check. After clearing the investigation, Macy informed her future employer that she would be undergoing a gender transition to become a woman. Five days later, she was told funding for the position had been suddenly cut and that she no longer had the job.

She and her partner had recently moved to California and were struggling to support themselves on one salary. Eventually, their house went into foreclosure.

“Because I was a detective, it just didn’t seem right,” Macy said.

So she sought help from the Transgender Law Center, which found out someone else had been hired for the job. The center filed a discrimination complaint on Macy’s behalf to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The decision arrived yesterday: transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC ruled that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition ‘based on…sex.'”

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It applies to all employers with over 15 employees.

“This is the first time that the EEOC has held that discrimination against trans people is unlawful under the federal sex discrimination law,” said Ilona Turner, the Transgender Law Center’s legal director.

But the ruling follows a precedent set by a series of federal court rulings. “This EEOC decision is really the culmination of an enormous amount of important advocacy work, important scholarship, and the recognition by an increasing number of courts around the country that indeed anti-trans discrimination constitutes sex discrimination,” said Tobias Barrington Wolff, Law Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think it is fair to say that the EEOC ruling is part of an existing trend among the courts.”

In 1989, the Supreme Court held that a woman who was denied partnership in an accounting firm because she was “too masculine” had experienced unlawful sex discrimination. The message: bias due to a person not conforming to gender stereotypes is a type of sex discrimination.

Discriminating against transgender people is another form of gender stereotyping, the Transgender Law Center’s Turner said. “Someone thinks that the transgender person is not behaving or looking the way that a man or a woman should.”

Lawyers expect Mia Macy to get a position in the ballistics lab in the next few months, and they intend to seek back pay for lost wages.

Macy says the decision has larger implications. “This decision isn’t just for me,” she said, “I mean it’s good for me, but this is a door that is opening now a little wider for a lot of other transgender that have to go through this.”

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