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EEOC applies sex discrimination law to help transgender workers

Transgender people working in New York might face challenges at work because of their gender identity choices. A growing body of legal cases supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has steered interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 toward protecting transgender people under the existing law against sex discrimination.

The EEOC defended a transgender woman from discrimination when applying for a job in April 2012. The commission applied the Title VII sex discrimination law to the situation. This action built upon an earlier case from 1989 that went before the Supreme Court of the United States. A majority of the justices affirmed that Title VII prohibitions included mistreatment inspired by sex stereotypes. Because sex stereotypes arise from cultural and social beliefs, the EEOC translated sex stereotypes into discrimination based on perceived social violations of gender roles. Discrimination aimed at someone because of a gender identity choice can represent an illegal action.

Additional legal cases have advanced the rights of transgender employees. A workplace where people purposefully use the wrong pronoun or wrong name in reference to a transgender person could qualify as sex discrimination or harassment. A worker also has a legal right, regardless of gender identity, to access health care services from employer-provided policies that are normally available.

Although workplace protections for transgender people appear to be evolving, gender discrimination persists as a problem for many people. An employee concerned about unequal treatment such as pregnancy discrimination could seek a legal opinion from an attorney. After reviewing evidence about mistreatment at work, an attorney might identify how an employer violated the law. To pursue damages or reinstatement to a position, an attorney may be able to file a lawsuit, open negotiations with the offending organization or present the case to a jury.

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