In November, 2014, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought complaints against a funeral home in Michigan and an eye clinic in Florida, both involving allegations from employees who claimed they were fired when they disclosed that they were making a transition from male to female. These are the first cases where the EEOC has brought actions on behalf of transgender persons.
According to an EEOC attorney, federal law prevents employers from terminating employees simply because "they do not behave according to the employer’s stereotype of how men and women should act." The complaint against the Florida eye clinic alleges that the victim, the director of hearing services at the clinic, told her supervisor of her life change and had started wearing makeup and women’s clothing to work. She was terminated shortly thereafter.
There is currently no federal legislation that specifically addresses the issue of transgender employees. Though the current administration has endorsed ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act), which would include sexual orientation or gender identity as suspect classifications under federal employment discrimination law. The bill was passed by the Senate in 2013, but has languished in Congress ever since. ENDA would apply to all employers with more than 15 employees. It also includes fairly broad exemptions for religious organizations.
Studies show that transgender employees face staggering odds when it comes to finding employment, unless they are willing to maintain secrecy about their gender identity. Estimates indicate that up to 90% of transgender employees report some type of discrimination or harassment on the job. Discrimination and harassment covered the spectrum, from verbal or physical abuse from co-workers to negative performance reviews, from denial of a promotion to termination.
We offer a free initial consultation to anyone who has been the victim of workplace discrimination. Call us at 516-873-9550 or 212-661-4370 (toll-free at 1-800-585-4658) or send us an e-mail to schedule a meeting.