Federal Government Decisions Mark A Changed Landscape For Transgender Workers

18 Jul

In cases against both government and private employers, transgender workers — with the federal government’s backing — are successfully using the Civil Rights Act’s sex discrimination protections to fight anti-transgender discrimination.posted on July 15, 2013 at 3:12pm EDT

Chris GeidnerBuzzFeed Staff
 

Mia MacySource: anewmia.com

WASHINGTON —Transgender workers, backed by the federal government for the first time, are successfully using civil rights laws to challenge government and private employers accused of anti-transgender discrimination, BuzzFeed has learned.

The Department of Justice decided earlier this month in favor of a transgender woman, Mia Macy, who had been refused work at a laboratory of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). After an investigation into her claims, the Justice Department informed Macy July 8 that the bureau “discriminated against [her] based on her transgender status.”

Macy celebrated the decision as “validation.”

“I never thought in my life that it would be over, but to have it not only be over but to have them say, ‘Yes, unfortunately, your civil rights were violated. They did do this.’ To have that vindication, it’s surreal,” Macy said.

The changes coming about now are the result of a crucial legal decision made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Macy’s case back in 2012. The commission then ruled that anti-transgender discrimination is covered under the ban on sex discrimination found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That April 2012 decision in Macy’s case sent her complaint back to the Justice Department, which is charged with investigating discrimination complaints brought against agencies under its control such as ATF.

Macy isn’t alone. BuzzFeed has learned that the EEOC also acted on at least one similar complaint later in 2012, a claim brought against a private employer.

The EEOC itself conducted an investigation into the actions of a private company in Maryland, concluding in September 2012 by finding that “reasonable cause” existed to believe the company had discriminated against a transgender woman employed by the company, which is a federal contractor. Although such findings often remain unpublicized, Freedom to Work and Lambda Legal, which represent the woman, presented the information about the case to BuzzFeed at this time because they have now reached a settlement with the company on behalf of the woman.

The value of the EEOC’s Title VII interpretation has been downplayed by some LGBT advocates over the past year because the Supreme Court, which is the only body that could definitively rule on the issue, has not considered a case to address it. Other advocates, though, have countered that this interpretation is growing in acceptance in the courts, which generally defer to the EEOC’s rulings on civil rights laws.

The outcome of these two cases show that, regardless of that debate, the interpretation in Macy’s case is being applied by the federal government and by EEOC offices taking complaints of private employment discrimination—providing substantially more protection to transgender workers than most people realize exists.

The path toward these new protections for transgender workers began when Macy, then working as a detective for the Phoenix Police Department, had expressed interest in moving to California in late 2010. Macy’s supervisor at the time recommended the military veteran for an ATF job at the Walnut Creek Laboratory, a position that Macy said the section chief there told her “was [hers], pending the outcome of [her] background check.”
At the time, however, Macy identified as a man, and began the background check process using that name. Her background check proceeded until late March or early April 2011, when she informed the company handling the process that she would be reporting to work as a woman. Within hours of receiving documentation of Macy’s new name on April 6, 2011, a supervisor at the ATF laboratory where Macy was expecting to work stopped a routine background investigation and canceled her hire.

When Macy filed a discrimination complaint with the ATF’s equal employment opportunity office, the office initially rejected her claim that anti-transgender discrimination was covered under Title VII. She appealed that decision, which sent the case to the EEOC, where the five commissioners ruled without dissent in April 2012 that discrimination claims based on transgender status are covered under the law’s prohibition of sex discrimination. The decision meant that a full investigation into Macy’s claims would proceed within the Justice Department.

After a lengthy investigation, the Justice Department’s Complaint Adjudication Office issued a final decision in Macy’s case on July 8, affirming that Macy had been discriminated against: “The record established that the ATF intended and began taking steps to hire complainant for the position—until she disclosed that she was transitioning from a man to a woman. The ATF stopped complainant’s hiring process when it learned that complainant … would become Mia Macy. In light of the EEOC’s decision in this case to hold that actions based on transgender status are actions based on sex and therefore covered by Title VII, the ATF’s actions were discrimination based on sex and therefore prohibited by Title VII.”

Macy told BuzzFeed she sees the decision as groundbreaking.

“What was so strange about this case is that most people file a claim, it gets investigated, it either happened or it didn’t, and then there’s some resolution,” she said. “The difference with my case is the findings are … based off of a decision that I had to create. There was not a system in place that protected us, so I had to first go get the protections for us and then come back and hold them to that standard.”

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