Major EEOC ruling holds that gender identity-based employment discrimination is illegal under Title VII
April 24, 2012
By Jacob Combs
In a breaking news update late last night, Chris Geidner of Metro Weekly reported on an April 20 opinion issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Comission (EEOC) holding that employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC ruling, written by the full bipartisan five-member commission with no objections, will be binding on all federal agencies, and will also hold sway in future EEOC litigation throughout the country.
The EEOC’s opinion arose out of the case of Mia Macy v. Eric Holder. Macy, a police detective in Phoenix, Arizona, applied for a job with the ATF in a Walnut Creek, California crime lab. At the time, Macy was known as a man, and she presented herself as such in her interview with the director of the Walnut Creek facility. After the interview, the director offered her the position provided she could pass a background check. A few months later, Macy informed Aspen of DC, the civilian contractor who would officially hire her for her work at the ATF, that she was in the processing of transitioning from male to female, and five days later, she received the news that the position was no longer available. Upon consulting with an EEO counselor, Macy learned that the position had been given to another applicant.
With the help of the Transgender Law Center, Macy filed a complaint with the ATF’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which is responsible for claims of discrimination within the agency, alleging discrimination based on “gender identity” and “sex stereotyping.” The ATF responded that the EEO process was not available to Macy, because the agency did not consider Title VII applicable to transgender employees. In its opinion, the EEOC ruled that ATF’s conclusion was incorrect and sent the case back to the agency for resolution, writing:
”When an employer discriminates against someone because the person is transgender, the employer has engaged in disparate treatment related to the sex of the victim. This is true regardless of whether an employer discriminates against an employee because the individual has expressed his or her gender in a non-stereotypical fashion, because the employer is uncomfortable with the fact that the person has transitioned or is in the process of transitioning from one gender to another, or because the employer simply does not like that the person is identifying as a transgender person.”
Speaking to Metro Weekly, Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the opinion a “real sea change,” since it provides a solid legal argument that employment discrimination based on gender identity is itself sex discrimination. Transgender individuals will be able to file claims in the EEOC’s 53 field offices across the country, and the EEOC’s legal staff itself can bring suits against employers that the agency determines are discriminating based on gender identity.
As Minter notes, the EEOC’s opinion does not reduce the need for a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. Even though the new ruling does change the political environment somewhat, since transgender individuals are now unequivocally entitled to certain discrimination protections, the decision could still be overturned by the Supreme Court., As before, a comprehensive legislative action barring employment discrimination is as important as ever.
You can read the full EEOC ruling here.