EEOC Rules Transgender Employees Protected Under Federal Sex Discrimination Law

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that a California woman who was denied a job at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after revealing that she was transitioning from her former life as a man can seek legal redress under sex-discrimination regulations.

In her complaint, Mia Macy, 39, said she had been promised a job in a bureau crime laboratory in early 2011. At the time, Ms. Macy, a military veteran and a former police detective, was living as a man. In anticipation of her gender transition, during the progress of the background check investigation she informed the director of her status as a transgender women and her new name. Five days later she received an e-mail informing her that the position she had applied for had been cut from the agency’s budget.

After contacting EEO personnel, she was informed that in fact the Bureau had lied to her and the position was still in the budget. But that instead, the Bureau had decided to hire someone else. When Macy attempted to file suit, the Bureau challenged that the EEOC could do not handle gender identity discrimination as it lacks jurisdiction for such claims. Macy then filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, since they have jurisdiction over all complaints by federal employees alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

Macy challenged the Bureau’s decision, appealing the Bureau’s characterization of her claim to the EEOC. After which, the EEOC reversed the Bureau and stated that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender” is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination. Such a determination, Ms. Macy’s lawyers said, could pave the way for federal employees to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against because of their gender identity.

“This is the law now,” said Ilona Turner, the legal director for the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, which filed the complaint on Ms. Macy’s behalf.

“This is a door that’s opening now a little wider for a lot of other transgender people,” Ms. Macy said.

The EEOC in this decision charts a groundbreaking path in finally recognizing how gender identity discrimination is simply another way to enforce unlawful sex stereotypes. In extending the reach of Price Waterhouse in this way, the EEOC has taken a major step in ensuring that all men and women have a right to equal opportunities in the workplace regardless of their sex and gender, whether conferred at birth or not.