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Transgender Workers Now a Protected Class, EEOC Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

In what some are calling a landmark decision, the EEOC has ruled that Title VII protects transgender workers from on-the-job discrimination. In part, the order states that "intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, 'based on ... sex' and such discrimination ... violates" the law.

Though certainly notable, the EEOC's transgender ruling is not the first of its kind. The courts, which have the final say as to the statute's interpretation, have been protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination for the last decade.

As the EEOC pointed out, the Supreme Court's 1989 ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins stated that Title VII bars gender discrimination. The Court also wrote that employers cannot engage in sex-stereotyping and insist that employees "match[] the stereotype associated with their group."

Since then, a number of federal appellate courts have applied Price Waterhouse to transgender discrimination. The 9th Circuit and 1st Circuit did so in non-employment contexts. In 2004, the 6th Circuit applied the ruling to Title VII and found in favor of a transitioning employee who was criticized for not being "masculine enough."

And just this past December, the 11th Circuit applied the ruling to a state employee and determined that the Equal Protection Clause's ban on sex discrimination also outlaws transgender discrimination.

Unfortunately, these cases are not well-known by the general population. But with the attention now being paid to EEOC's transgender ruling, one can hope that the nation's employers are now officially on notice that transgender discrimination won't be tolerated in the workplace.

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