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EEO Laws

Why Are Transgender Employees Winning EEOC Lawsuits?


Mar 03, 2016

transgender eeoc lawsuitsIn April 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a lawsuit against Lakeland Eye Clinic. The EEOC alleged that firing a transgender employee because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences or stereotypes was sex discrimination— a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Transgender Employees Versus Gender Stereotypes

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, the employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment; however, after she began to present as a woman and informed the clinic she was transgender, Lakeland fired her.

This was the second lawsuit of its kind ever filed and is making waves because of the way the EEOC presented the case. Right now, transgender employees are not recognized as a federally protected class. But, sex is a protected class, and part of that protection extends to gender expectations and stereotypes.

For example, if a woman possesses traits that are stereotypically male—wearing baggier clothing, acting aggressively, wearing her hair shorter—she cannot be harassed or discriminated against because of this.

And when an employer harasses or discriminates against a transgender employee because he or she is not conforming to gender standards, it violates EEOC laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex.

So when a transgender employee is transitioning to another gender, the employer cannot discriminate against them because they are not conforming to gender stereotypes of their previously identified gender.

EEOC Fights for Sexual Orientation to Be Covered Under Sex Discrimination

This also applies to lesbian, gay and bisexual employees too. In fact, the EEOC just filed its first two sexual orientation lawsuits. The EEOC’s press release states that, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of sex. As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.”

The reasoning for sexual orientation being covered under sex discrimination laws is the same as transgender being covered—employment decisions based on non compliance with gender stereotypes is prohibited.

Additionally, the EEOC and courts have stated that it is illegal for an employer to deny employment opportunities or permit harassment because:

  • A woman does not dress or talk in a feminine manner
  • A man dresses in an effeminate manner or enjoys a pastime that is associated with women
  • A female employee dates women instead of men
  • A male employee plans to marry a man
  • An employee transitions from female to male or male to female

What Can Your Company Do to Stay Compliant?

Besides following the EEOC guidelines, there are other things your organization can do to help maintain compliance with the laws:

  • Provide employees with updated clear policies addressing discrimination and harassment
  • Inform employees about bathroom policies and make lawful accommodations, such as designating gender neutral restrooms
  • Encourage reporting, investigate claims and offer prompt remedial action
  • Thorough discrimination in the workplace training that covers sex and gender discrimination

Learn More About Training

One of the reasons training is so important is because it shows the EEOC and any outside investigators that your company is committed to providing an environment that is inclusive to all employees and free from harassment and discrimination.

To learn more about our harassment prevention training—which covers discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation—schedule a demo.

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