For the first time, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed landmark lawsuits on September 25, 2014 against a funeral home in Michigan and a medical clinic in Florida. These lawsuits mark the first time the EEOC has sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 accusing a private sector employer of sex discrimination based on actions taken against a transgender worker. Previously, based on a 2012 administrative proceeding against a Federal Agency, the EEOC held that Title VII's ban on sex discrimination prohibits bias based on transgender status and gender identity.
In the new lawsuits, the EEOC claimed that the women were discriminated against because they are transgender, were transitioning from male to female, and/or did not conform to the employer's gender or sex based stereotypes, expectations or preferences.
The EEOC lawsuits are the latest in the growing list of legal developments recognizing civil rights for transgender workers. As we have previously reported in an e-lert, President Obama, on July 21, 2014, issued an Executive Order to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender employees and job applicants. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now ban gender identity bias in the work place. Keep in mind that these lawsuits have just been filed, and it remains to be seen whether the Federal Courts in Michigan and Florida will agree with the EEOC's rationale that transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. We will continue to follow these cases and provide you with the outcome once the cases are decided.
If you have any questions concerning this topic please contact the member of our Labor and Employment Law team with whom you work.