New Case: Federal Law Now Protects Transgender Employees
Approximately 14 states protect sexual orientation. Federal protection has been non-existent or minimal at best. Now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is sending a clear message that it will protect transgender employees from discrimination. This is no longer a state-by-state issue. This case, and recent others, now makes it a federal issue that impacts employers in every state.
In a conciliation agreement with the EEOC, a supermarket owner in South Dakota has agreed to pay $50,000 to a former employee who was fired for being transgender. An investigation by the EEOC revealed that the owner of the market terminated the well-performing employee, who had recently been promoted, after she indicated her intent to present as a woman. Following the investigation of the discrimination charge filed by the former employee, the EEOC determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In addition to the EEOC’s recent decision on sex discrimination, Macy v. Department of Justice, (April 20, 2012), there has been a steady stream of district court decisions finding that claims of discrimination based on transgender status, also referred to as gender identity, are cognizable under Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition.
“Employers need to be made aware that their personal myths, fears, and stereotypes about gender identity can subject them to liability if they act upon them in an employment setting,” said Julie Schmid, acting director of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office.
In addition to paying $50,000, the conciliation agreement requires the market to obtain professional anti-discrimination training annually for all of its employees; implement and distribute an anti-discrimination policy to all employees; report all future complaints of discrimination to the EEOC; and provide the former employee with a letter of apology and a neutral letter of reference.
The EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office is part of the Chicago District, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
The times are changing and employers are going to continue to be challenged on a state and federal law. Men and women are undergoing “gender re-assignment” and employers need to understand they will be protected irrespective of religious or personal beliefs. A number of our clients have been confronted with men, dressed as women, applying for jobs or have had a male employee announce that he is going to have gender-reassignment. Issues such as dress code, restroom facilities, employee comments and customer concerns are becoming commonplace questions for our staff. If you are not sure how to resolve a given set of circumstances please contact us. If you are a non-client you can pose your question on the comment section of the blog and someone will respond directly to you in confidence.