President Obama made headlines in May when he embraced the concept of gay marriage. But another important step in the administration’s evolving protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights a few weeks earlier went largely unnoted. That step was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) groundbreaking finding that discrimination based on gender identity is illegal under Title VII.
The April 20 ruling in the case of a job applicant rejected when she revealed she was undergoing a gender transition marks a sharp policy shift for the agency. In Macy v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency expressly overturned prior decisions that found claims of discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status not actionable under Title VII. As a result, the EEOC will now accept complaints of workplace discrimination from transgender employees. Although Macy involves alleged discrimination by a government agency, it is expected to impact private employers as well.
The EEOC ruling came in a case brought by Mia Macy, a former Phoenix police officer who presented as a man when she applied for a position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a Department of Justice (DOJ) agency. She was promised the job subject to a background check, but when Macy revealed she was in the process of transitioning from male to female, she was told the position was no longer available. She subsequently learned someone else had been hired.
While the Macy ruling is significant, the EEOC was playing catch-up with some federal courts, states and local governments in a rapidly evolving area of employment law.