By Michael K. Browne, Assistant Director – Complaint Investigations
There has been a momentous change in the interpretation of federal law: as a result, you can now file a federal sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination claim. This April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are illegal under federal law.
It seems pretty basic, right? Well, before this decision, the term “sex discrimination” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was interpreted only to mean discrimination based on being male or female.
The EEOC found that the term “sex” was interpreted by the courts to mean both biology and gender, including how gender is perceived and is interpreted socially. This means, for example, that your employer cannot discriminate against you for acting “too feminine” or “not feminine enough” without being subject to federal charges.
How did we get here?
This landmark decision was made when former police officer Mia Macy was denied employment with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the Walnut Creek Lab in Walnut Creek, California. Mia Macy v. Eric Holder, Attorney General, Department of Justice, Agency, Appeal No. 0120120821.
Macy, a trained and certified National Integrated Ballistic Information Network Operator and a ballistics investigator, was asked to participate in a telephone interview by the Director of the Lab. During the interview, the Director verbally promised to Macy, presenting as a man, that the job was hers, pending a background check. While the Bureau conducted the background check, Mia began the process of her transition from male to female. She called Walnut Creek Lab and told them about her transition. Five days later, she received an email from the Lab telling her that the position was no longer available.
After Macy filed a complaint with the EEOC, an EEOC representative informed Macy that because part of her claim was the issue of gender-identity stereotyping, Mia’s case could not be fully investigated by the EEOC because it could only handle discrimination cases based on her being a female. However, Mia could file a gender identity claim with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Believing that this interpretation of the term “sex discrimination” was too narrow, Macy appealed the EEOC’s initial assessment. Macy was compelled to appeal the EEOC’s decision given that the DOJ provides fewer remedies and does not allow the right to request a hearing before an EEOC administration judge or to appeal the final decision.
Upon review, the EEOC significantly broadened the spectrum of sex discrimination the Civil Rights Act protects to include all issues relating to gender.
What does this mean for you?
Now you can dual file your gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination claims with the EEOC, which will trigger the federal protections as well as local laws.
If you have experienced any sex discrimination when working for or seeking employment, including discrimination due to your gender identity or transgender status, please contact us as soon as possible.
A special thank you to our Outreach Intern, Ayah Helmy, for her contribution to this article.