Transgender Rights

Answers to Common Questions about Transgender Workplace

A: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a law proposed in Congress that would explicitly forbid gender identity discrimination in both private-sector (nongovernment) and public employment. Lambda Legal and other LGBT advocacy groups have withdrawn support from the current version of ENDA because it permits too much discrimination by religiously affiliated organizations. We are working with congressional leadership and our allies on better language to provide LGBT workers the protections they need.

Q: What kind of employment protections do transgender employees have without ENDA in place?

A: In the past 15 years, federal appellate courts have increasingly recognized that discrimination against a transgender person is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by federal law. Lambda Legal has successfully handled some of that important litigation.

These court decisions paved the way for a historic 2012 decision from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the case Macy v. Holder, which held that such discrimination violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC’s Macy ruling is binding on the federal government and establishes definitively that federal transgender workers have protections under Title VII. It also supports transgender employees, public and private, anywhere in the country who feel they have experienced employment discrimination, because they can now file complaints with the EEOC, which will investigate complaints and, if they are found valid, pursue settlements and sometimes file lawsuits. (See for more information).

In 2014, 18 states and the District of Columbia expressly ban discrimination based on gender identity, as do over 130 cities and counties across the United States. Also, a growing number of private companies have antidiscrimination policies on their books that cover bias against transgender people.

Although the federal Americans with Disabilities Act has language that explicitly excludes trans people from its protections, some advocates have been successful in bringing state disability claims on behalf of trans people.

Q: How are transgender people covered by existing sex discrimination laws?

A: It is now widely considered sex discrimination when someone is treated differently for failing to conform to sex stereotypes or for changing their sex—or in some cases because gender identity is part of one’s sex.

In 1989, the Supreme Court accepted the idea that treating someone differently on the basis of stereotypes could be sex discrimination—in a case that did not involve a transgender employee. The Court ruled in the case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that Title VII did indeed protect a female accountant who didn’t make partner at her firm solely because her demeanor didn’t match her employer’s idea of what a woman should look and act like. A supervisor wrote in a job evaluation that Hopkins could do with a “course in charm school.”

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