By Natalie Russell.
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (“LGBT”) workers are seeing progress in the protection of transgender employee rights by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against workplace discrimination “based on . . . sex.” Traditionally, however, the term “sex” was defined as one’s gender at birth. Any claims that were filed for sex-related acts of discrimination, other than those relating to one’s gender at birth, could not be adjudicated by the EEOC.
The term “sex” was expanded in the 1989 Price v. Waterhouse decision when the U.S. Supreme Court held that sex stereotyping was protected under Title VII. The law continued to evolve and, in 1998, rendering the majority opinion in Onacle v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Justice Scalia acknowledged that same-sex harassment is also discrimination under Title VII.
Still, it was not until the 2012 landmark decision, in Macy v. Dep’t of Justice, when the EEOC recognized that claims based on transgender discrimination are protected under Title VII and can be adjudicated according to 29 C.F.R. Part 1614 of the EEO complaint process. Under Macy, a transgender individual who experiences sex discrimination in the workplace can establish a case under three theories: sex, gender stereotyping, and gender identity. Sex discrimination based on gender identity exists when an agency denies employment because the applicant is transgender, terminates employment based on transgender status or repeatedly uses the incorrect gender pronoun when interacting with or talking about a transgender employee.
On April 9, 2015, the EEOC v. Lakeland Eye Clinic, P.A. $150,000 settlement marked a “historic” moment for the EEOC. It was one of the first times the EEOC filed a case for sex discrimination against a transgender employee. The EEOC has made LGBT coverage under Title VII a priority through its Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”). In 2015 alone, the EEOC held over seven hundred events where LGBT rights were discussed. With its directed attention on LGBT coverage, the EEOC has resolved one hundred eighty-four cases and settled twelve of two hundred seventy-one transgender/gender-identity claims it received in 2015.
The EEOC continues its efforts to educate, prevent, and correct LGBT rights and has committed to protecting sex-discrimination rights of transgender individuals.