May 22, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Last month, I wrote about a landmark opinion issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stating that employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC opinion was the result of a case filed by Mia Macy, who applied for a job with the ATF in California and whose initial job offer was rescinded after she informed the civilian contractor processing her application that she was transitioning from male to female.
Yesterday, MetroWeekly reported that the Department of Justice accepted the EEOC ruling, and that the ATF Office of Equal Opportunity sent Macy a letter that it would be opening an investigation into her claim of gender discrimination. The ATF had originally stated that claims based upon transgender status were not covered by Title VII, leading to the EEOC decision.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told MetroWeekly that there was still work to be done in response to the EEOC ruling:
“The EEOC needs to make sure all of their own people are trained. The Office of Federal Programs, which does all of the federal government work, needs to make sure that all of the EEO officers throughout the federal government and … [Office of Personnel Management] needs to make sure all of the chief human capital officers] understand this decision.”
Keisling adds that the EEOC may need to issue guidance, as it does in other situations, to clarify the effect of this ruling on private employers — a possibility raised by Freedom to Work founder Tico Almeida previously. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is in the Department of Labor, she says, “in theory, should be interpreting the existing federal contractor rules [that ban sex discrimination] to include trans people” — a point advanced recently in a report issued by the Williams Institute.
Of course, the best case scenario moving forward would be for a federal court to follow the EEOC’s lead and recognize that discrimination based on transgender status is in fact gender discrimination. Since the EEOC’s interpretation of civil rights legislation is given a good deal of deference by the courts, that may very well happen sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the Macy decision will stand as binding precedent on the EEOC, its field offices, and all federal departments and agencies.