Two recent lawsuits filed by the EEOC are the latest efforts in a growing movement to protect transgender people in the workplace.
The two lawsuits, filed separately in Florida and Michigan, accuse two private employers of discriminating against transgender employees. Both lawsuits are based on a 2012 EEOC decision that effectively expanded the definition of “sex discrimination” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit bias based on transgender status and gender identity.
In the Florida case, the EEOC alleges that Lakeland Eye Clinic fired an employee who had previously presented as male but had recently begun wearing feminine attire to work and had recently disclosed that she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female. The EEOC also alleges that the clinic stated that it was eliminating the employee’s position, then two months later hired a male employee who conformed to traditional male gender norms for the position.
In the Michigan case, the EEOC alleges that a funeral director/embalmer was fired after disclosing that she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female. The company told her that what she was “proposing to do” was unacceptable.
In its 2012 Strategic Enforcement Plan, the EEOC identified as a top enforcement priority the “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions.” In announcing the Michigan lawsuit, the EEOC’s regional attorney stated, “Title VII prohibits employers from firing employees because they do not behave according to the employer’s stereotypes of how men and women should act, and this includes employees who present themselves according to their gender identity."
The two lawsuits follow a growing list of legal developments aimed at protecting transgender workers’ civil rights. In July, President Obama issued an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. In August, the Department of Labor released a new directive clarifying that sex-based discrimination includes bias based on gender identity and transgender status.
In light of the EEOC’s recent enforcement actions, employers are reminded not to discriminate against employees on any basis, and to take care to ensure that all employment decisions are properly documented.