Feds File Transgender Workplace Discrimination Lawsuit For The First Time In History

Finally, the government is starting to take transgender discrimination seriously. On Thursday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its first two transgender discrimination lawsuits against two parties: an eye clinic and a funeral home. These twin lawsuits mark the first time the EEOC has gotten directly involved with transgender discrimination cases, breaking from its traditionally hands-off approach.

The first lawsuit claims that the Lakeland Eye Clinic in Florida violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it fired employee Brandi Branson because of “sex-based considerations.” Meanwhile, the second lawsuit accuses the Michigan-based R.G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes of firing Amiee Stephens for reporting she would begin dressing as a female, in accordance with her transition.

So why is this such big news? After all, the EEOC adopted its new Title VII policy prohibiting discrimination based on gender stereotyping back in 2012, so it’s not like the law itself is groundbreaking. What’s exciting is now the law itself, however, but that the EEOC is actually enforcing it, and thus taking a firm stand against transgender-centered discrimination.

Based on the agency's precedent, many were pleasantly surprised that the EEOC responded this way. After all, the EEOC could have handled the situation remotely and advised Branson and Stephens to seek lawsuits on their own. By choosing to handle the cases themselves, however, the EEOC shows that it has a zero-tolerance policy on gender identity-based discrimination, and that it's ready to crack down.

So why did it take two whole years since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was extended to include transgender individuals for the EEOC to finally take notice of an actual discrimination issue and pursue action?

It’s not like 2012-2014 were two blissful, discrimination-free years. In fact, a joint study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 81 percent of its transgender participants had experienced harassment at their jobs before. Even worse — 56 percent of the transgender participants had been demoted or even fired for their gender identification.

While it’s unsettling that it took a full two years for the EEOC to finally take action toward curbing harassment and discrimination against transgender workers, this is still progress that warrants a celebration.

The legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah Warbelow, called the announcement historic, detailing that it was, “a giant step toward ensuring American workers are judged based on the work they do, and not their gender identity."

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