Federal government extends protections to transgender workers

In a move that will provide greater workplace protections for employees in New York and nationwide, the U.S. Attorney General released a memo on Dec. 18 announcing that the Justice Department will now interpret federal law to explicitly shield transgender people from workplace discrimination. The announcement is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to afford transgender employees protection on the job.

The new interpretation of federal law means the Justice Department will now be able to file lawsuits on behalf of people who believe they have been discriminated against based on sex identity by local and state public employers. It also means the U.S. government will no longer claim that Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sex, does not protect employees against gender status discrimination. It is a reversal of position for the Justice Department, which in 2006 claimed that Title VII did not cover discrimination based on an employee’s transgender status. The memo stated that the federal government’s position had evolved over time.

The memo covers all Justice Department components and all U.S. Attorneys’ offices. However, the memo does not affect the private sector, and the federal government cannot sue private employers.

A representative with the National Center for Transgender Equality said the Justice Department’s new position affirms a stance the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began taking in 2012. It is also consistent with the way the Education Department has applied Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education, to the discrimination claims of transgender students.

Anyone who believes they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace may wish to consult with an attorney. A lawyer could evaluate the claims and offer guidance on the best course of legal action.

Source: ABC News, “US Announces Protections for Transgender Workers”, December 18, 2014

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