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