People in California my be interested to know that a 29-year-old South Dakota transgender woman was fired from her job shortly after informing her employer that she would soon begin gender transition from male to female. Since federal law does not specifically address transgender discrimination, as California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act does, the woman brought suit alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In September, the parties reached a rare $50,000 settlement.

A landmark 2001 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finding affirmed that transgender persons were protected under Title VII. However, Title VII fails to specifically identify transgender employees as a class of persons afforded protection from workplace discrimination separate and apart from membership in another protected class.

Employers arguing that discrimination based on gender identity is not sex discrimination may seek to find cover in the ambiguous language of Title VII. The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act clearly set outs gender identity as being subject to the workplace discrimination protections afforded other protected classes. The question of whether gender identity discrimination is sex discrimination under Title VII would be answered if ENDA is enacted.

Many federal and state laws are designed to provide protections for classes of workers who have historically been subjected to workplace discrimination and harassment. The enactment of legislation to more specifically address the gender identity concerns of transgender employees may provide them with greater protections. An employment attorney may be able to assist persons who believe that they have experienced workplace discrimination or been fired based on gender identity.

Source: Huffington Post, “Workplace Discrimination Against Transgender Individuals: It’s Time for ENDA“, Parker Marie Molloy, September 20, 2013