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Transgender woman awarded over $1 million in discrimination case

Long Island readers may hope that they never experience workplace gender discrimination. However, a lawsuit is sometimes necessary to ensure that a worker's rights are protected. For example, a transgender woman has recently been awarded $1.1 million after being denied promotion and tenure at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. The historic decision was handed down on Nov. 20.

According to court documents, the plaintiff was hired as a tenure-track assistant English professor in 2004 when she still presented as a male. In 2007, she began transitioning into a woman and told the university that she would attend work as a woman for the 2007-2008 school year. Shortly afterward, she was notified by the human resources department that a university vice president had said her transition countered his religious beliefs. The vice president's sister also told her that her brother took "grave" offense to her gender identity and advised her to take safety precautions.

In October 2009, the plaintiff applied for promotion and tenure. While a similarly qualified male worker was approved, she was denied. She then filed a federal complaint, alleging that the university had discriminated against her based on her gender. An eight-person jury agreed, finding that the university had denied her a promotion based on her gender and then retaliated against her when she complained. She was awarded $1.165 million in damages. The decision is considered a landmark for transgender rights.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department determined that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects transgender people from workplace gender discrimination. Transgender workers who believe they are being discriminated against may benefit by speaking to an employment rights attorney. Legal counsel could explain all legal options available and help file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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