Good News! EEOC Rules That Gender-Identity Discrimination Is Covered by Title VII

This is big news and good news for trans* people in the US:
An employer who discriminates against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person's gender identity is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to an opinion issued on April 20 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The opinion, experts say, could dramatically alter the legal landscape for transgender workers across the nation.

The opinion came in a decision delivered on Monday, April 23, to lawyers for Mia Macy, a transgender woman who claims she was denied employment with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after the agency learned of her transition. It also comes on the heels of a growing number of federal appellate and trial courts deciding that gender-identity discrimination constitutes sex discrimination, whether based on Title VII or the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The EEOC decision, issued without objection by the five-member, bipartisan commission, will apply to all EEOC enforcement and litigation activities at the commission and in its 53 field offices throughout the country. It also will be binding on all federal agencies and departments.

In the decision, the EEOC states, "[T]he Commission hereby clarifies that claims of discrimination based on transgender status, also referred to as claims of discrimination based on gender identity, are cognizable under Title VII's sex discrimination prohibition...."

Masen Davis, head of the Transgender Law Center (TLC), says the decision is a "big leap forward." TLC advocates, who brought Macy's case, note that after today's ruling transgender people who feel they have faced employment discrimination can go into any of those 53 offices and the EEOC will consider their claims. What's more, the EEOC could take action itself to sue the employer for discrimination.

"Given the incredibly high rate of employment discrimination facing transgender people, this is incredibly significant for us. Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 78 percent of transgender Americans say they've experienced workplace discrimination at some point in time," Davis tells Metro Weekly. "Given that transgender people do not have employment protections in the vast majority of states, this creates a whole new fabric of legal support for our community."
Emphases mine. There is much, much more at the link.

"A new fabric of legal support" is a beautiful turn of phrase. It's tough to overstate the importance of this ruling, in terms of providing access to justice for employment discrimination and communicating to employers that discrimination against trans* workers may have consequences.

Of course, this ruling doesn't erase trans*phobia, and it doesn't magically disappear employment discrimination into oblivion, and it doesn't guarantee that every person tasked with receiving complaints at every EEOC office will fairly assess and address complaints by trans* workers. There is never a guarantee of justice, especially for marginalized people.

But this ruling opens justice-seeking opportunities to trans* people who face discrimination that weren't previously available. It is an important piece of legal and cultural progress, and long overdue.

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