EEOC Rules: Discrimination Against the Transgendered is Illegal

Although there still is no federal law barring discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently moved one step closer to securing equal protection under the law for all employees in this country, regardless of sexual orientation.  On April 20, 2012, the Commission held that complaints of discrimination based on “gender identity, change of sex, and/or transgender status” form cognizable claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  The case is Mia Macy, Complainant, v. Eric Holder, Attorney General, Department of Justice (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), Agency. 

The Complainant, Mia Macy, was a transgender woman and police detective who was trained and certified as a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network operator and BrassTrax ballistics investigator.  In approximately December 2010, while she was still presenting as a man, she applied for a position at a crime laboratory operated by the Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.  After a series of conversations with the Director of the Laboratory, she was told that she would be hired for the position, pending completion of a background check.  On approximately April 3, 2011, the Agency learned of Ms. Macy’s impending name and gender change from Complainant’s contractor.  Just 5 days after the Agency learned of this, they informed the contractor that she would not be hired for the position due to federal budget cuts. 

Based on the quick change in position after learning of her name and gender change, Ms. Macy contacted the Agency Equal Employment Opportunity Office, alleging that she was denied the position in part because of her transgender status.  The Agency initially countered by saying, in contradiction to its previously cited reason, that the position was filled by another employee because that employee was further along in the clearance process.  Unfortunately, even with the shifting reasons, the Agency EEO office still chose to dismiss her claim, stating that the EEOC could not adjudicate claims of discrimination based on transgender status.  After overcoming assorted procedural hurdles, Ms. Macy appealed the matter directly to the EEOC. 

On Appeal, the EEOC overturned the dismissal and remanded the case for investigation.  It held that Title VII, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination, “proscribes gender discrimination, and not just discrimination on the basis of biological sex… [.]”  They further held that when an employer discriminates against a person because that person is transgendered, the employer has engaged in disparate treatment related to the sex of the victim.  Based on this reasoning, and a string of cases supporting its position, the Commission ultimately held that discrimination against a transgendered individual because that person is transgender is discrimination barred by Title VII. 

We at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., applaud the EEOC for making such a courageous decision in this case.  Ms. Macy is entitled to equal opportunity in employment under the law, regardless of her race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation, and this decision brings her one step closer to ultimately reaching that goal.

Thanks to associate Stephen Fung for writing this month’s blog entry.