Col. David J. Schroer served with distinction in the U.S. Army for 25 years, commanding a Special Forces battalion during combat operations in Haiti and Rwanda and later directing a Special Operations unit charged with tracking and targeting international terrorist organizations. Shortly after retiring from the Army in 2004, Schroer applied for a job as a terrorism research analyst with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. Impressed by Schroer's credentials, the library quickly extended a job offer, agreeing to his salary demands.
What the hiring manager didn't know was Schroer is a transgendered person--someone whose gender identity is different from his or her assigned sex at birth--and about to legally become Diane J. Schroer, dress in feminine clothing and in every way present as a woman.
More recently, however, some courts have accepted arguments that link gender identity discrimination to sexual stereotyping, which the Supreme Court banned in its 1989 decision Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. In that case the court found a Title VII violation when supervisors passed over a woman for promotion because she did not dress and talk as they perceived a woman should. In 2004 the 6th Circuit applied the reasoning in Price Waterhouse to a gender identity case in Smith v. City of Salem.
"After Price Waterhouse, an employer who discriminates against women because, for instance, they do not wear dresses or makeup is engaging in sex discrimination," the court wrote. "... It follows that employers who discriminate against men because they do wear dresses and makeup or otherwise act femininely are also engaging in sex discrimination."
But many transgendered individuals still have no protection and must rely on the good will of their employers in what can become a volatile environment. Witness the highly publicized case of Steve Stanton, city manager of Largo, Fla., who city commissioners fired in March 2007 in the wake of public outcry over a newspaper report that he was undergoing hormone therapy treatment and planning to become Susan Stanton. Three months later Stanton lost a bid to become Sarasota city manager, telling reporters later that it apparently is "too soon for a transgendered city manager."
Among large corporations, however, the tide already is turning. Twenty-five percent of Fortune 500 companies include workplace protection for transgendered employees in their nondiscrimination policies, compared to 1 percent in 2000, according to a 2007 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) survey. Some 70 companies--including American Express, Eastman Kodak, IBM and Microsoft--provide comprehensive transgender health benefits, HRC reported, even though most insurance plans exclude coverage for gender transition treatment and may exclude transgendered individuals from all health coverage. Thirty-three major corporations publicly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected under federal law.
Above all, the way managers react will be closely watched and mimicked by other employees. Reiterating non-discrimination policies and addressing the transitioning employee as she or he wants to be addressed are actions that telegraph the manager's attitude to the staff.
"All of the employees are looking to management for leadership and guidance," Sease says. "How management decides to handle the issue sets the tone for how the rest of the employees will react."