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WASHINGTON—Federal discrimination law protects individuals who are discriminated against because they are transgendered, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a ruling this week that has been hailed as a landmark decision.
In Mia Macy vs. Eric Holder, Ms. Macy said she was offered a position at a Walnut Creek, Calif., crime laboratory operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in January 2011 while still presenting as a man.
But after she informed the lab in March 2011 that she was in the process of transitioning from a male to a female, she said she was told the position had been cut. She was subsequently told that, in fact, the job had been offered to someone else.
As part of a complicated regulatory process, Ms. Macy was told that her gender identity discrimination claim could not be adjudicated before the EEOC, and she filed an appeal.
In a ruling issued Monday, the EEOC held that her complaint of discrimination “based on gender identify, change of sex, and/or gender status is cognizable under Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and her complaint was remanded to the agency for further processing.
“When an employer discriminates against someone because the person is transgender, the employer has engaged in disparate treatment” related to the victim's sex, said the EEOC, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 ruling in Price Waterhouse vs. Hopkins, in which the high court held that Title VII bars gender discrimination, including discrimination based on sex stereotypes.
The EEOC said, “This is true regardless of whether an employer discriminates against an employee because the individual has expressed his or her gender in a nonstereotypical 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.”
Commenting on the EEOC ruling, Richard B. Cohen, a partner with law firm Fox Rothschild L.L.P. in New York, said, “The EEOC is sort of behind the cutting edge here. Sixteen states have already passed such a law” prohibiting discrimination against transgendered individuals, as well as a number of municipalities.
He said while the EEOC ruling is a landmark “to the extent charges filed with the EEOC can allege such discrimination, it has not yet been recognized by federal courts in terms of claims being brought” to them.