In the first Title VII action taken by the federal government on behalf of transgender workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed two lawsuits against companies accused of discriminating against employees on the basis of gender identity.
The federal complaints, first reported by BuzzFeed, were filed Thursday in Florida and Michigan, marking the latest effort by the U.S. government to advance LGBT rights across the nation.
President Obama is on track to being remembered as the most radically pro-equality president in history – having flipped the script on gays in the military, same-sex marriage, and most recently, workplace protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors. But without the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal measure Republican House Speaker John Boehner has deemed “unnecessary,” it remains legal for private employers to fire workers on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states, and on the basis of gender identity in 32.
Thursday’s cases, however, contend that discrimination against transgender individuals is a form of “sex discrimination,” and is therefore prohibited under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The argument builds off a 2012 EEOC decision that found the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had wrongfully discriminated against a transgender woman in the hiring process.
“This is a great example of how American law, just like American democracy, is evolutionary,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, in a statement to msnbc. “As our understanding of ourselves evolves, our laws must also evolve – and the EEOC made the right decision to bring lawsuits that would allow the legal protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to evolve along with us. As ENDA languishes in the House and until we are able to secure full LGBTQ equality through Congress, it’s vitally important that decisions like this one by the EEOC continue to move forward the efforts to provide legal protections for LGBTQ Americans.”