In a landmark decision in 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender. While workers are protected from sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination at the local or state level in many parts of the country, there were previously no federal laws protecting LGBTQ+ workers.
The decision stemmed from a case involving a transgender funeral home director who was fired after disclosing their gender identity. After reviewing the case, the court held that transgender employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The decision does not cover firing alone and prohibits discrimination in hiring, training, promoting discipline, and compensation practices.
What Is Gender Identity Discrimination?
An individual’s gender identity refers to a gender that the individual identifies with; this may also encompass gender expression. An individual identifies with gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, characteristics, or dress, which may or may not differ from their gender identity or assigned gender at birth.
Discrimination occurs when employers give differential treatment against employees because of their transgender or gender identity status. An employer who refuses to hire a qualified candidate solely based on their gender identity would be an example of discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s ruling bars all employers from discriminating against employees based on their transgender or gender identity status or sexual orientation in any aspect of employment. Examples of gender identity discrimination may include:
- Refusing to call an employee or coworker by their preferred name or pronouns or purposely referring to their assigned birth name.
- Engaging in misgendering; using the male pronouns with a transgender woman and the female pronouns to a transgender man.
- Not permitting an employee to use the restroom of their preferred gender or hassling an employee or coworker for using the bathroom of their preferred gender.
- Bullying a transgender person over their appearance or behavior as nonconforming to stereotypical traits of their birth gender, appearance, and mannerisms. Employers are required to permit employees to dress according to their preferred gender. In work settings requiring uniforms or a specific dress code, employers must provide the attire for the gender the employee identifies with and allow employees transitioning during employment to obtain the appropriate clothing for their preferred gender.
- Offensive or abusive comments and actions regarding a person’s gender identity or the LGBTQ+ community in general.
- Creating a hostile work environment that encourages bullying of transgender employees, such as teasing, jokes, slurs, or threats among staff and coworkers, or ignoring such behavior without reprimand.
Workplace harassment of transgender people creates a hostile work environment for those employees, whether verbal, physical, or written harassment, and is also considered a form of discrimination.
What Are My Rights at Work?
In addition to federal laws prohibiting employers from firing, refusing to promote or hire, harassing, or discriminating against you based on gender identity, gender transition, assigned birth sex, or transgender status, you have legal rights as well, such as:
- The right to be treated respectfully and without harassment. It is against the law for an employer to permit, encourage, or ignore ongoing severe and widespread sex-based harassment, including derogatory comments and intentional and repeated use of incorrect names or pronouns.
- The right to safe and adequate access. You can access any other facilities or locales reserved for your gender identity, such as restrooms, locker rooms, etc. Employers cannot demand legal or medical documentation of your gender as a condition of access or assign you facilities separate from your coworkers.
- The right to decide disclosure. You have the freedom whether or not to choose to disclose your transgender status or gender identity to coworkers, customers, or clients. It is unlawful for employers to forbid you from disclosing or arbitrarily disclosing your status without permission. However, if your employer has a rule prohibiting personal conversations in the workplace, that rule would apply as long as it is a rule for all employees.
What Should I Do if I am Being Discriminated Against at Work?
In addition to the aforementioned rights, you also have a right to file a discrimination claim if you believe you are being discriminated against based on your transgender or gender identity status, as follows.
Filing a Claim With the EEOC
If you are experiencing discrimination, filing a claim can stop the discrimination against you and potentially happening to other employees. In some cases, discrimination charges can result in financial remedies and employers changing or adopting policies, training, or disciplining offenders.
Discrimination charges must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the civil rights agency in your state before filing a lawsuit and taking your case to the courts.
Charges must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory incident if you are employed in the private sector and 45 days for federal government employees. It is best to file in person at your regional EEOC office and cannot be filed over the phone. If it is not possible to file in person, a letter can be mailed and must include:
- Your name, address, and telephone number.
- Your employer’s company and personal names, address, and telephone number.
- Number of employees in the organization.
- A description of the discriminatory events and why you believe you were discriminated against.
- When and where the incident occurred.
The EEOC will investigate your charges and determine whether it constitutes a violation of the law. If proven credible, it will attempt to meet a settlement between you and your employer or issue you a Right to Sue letter allowing you to file a lawsuit in federal court. Discrimination laws protect you from retaliation or threats from your employer for filing charges, but your employer may be asked to participate in mediation efforts to resolve the case.
Filing a Discrimination Lawsuit
If you receive a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC, you can take the next step and file a federal lawsuit within 90 days following the receipt of the letter. If you are filing a case at the local or state level based on local or state laws, you are not required to go through the EEOC process beforehand. However, you may have to file with your state’s civil rights agency before initiating a lawsuit in certain circumstances.
Discrimination lawsuits can be quite complex. It is recommended to hire an employment lawyer with experience and success in handling discrimination lawsuits.
Bucks County Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Employees Experiencing Transgender Discrimination
If you feel your rights have been violated at work because of your transgender status, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Our seasoned Bucks County employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. are available to help. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.