Transgender individuals are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a landmark ruling handed down last month in the case of Macy v. Holder. Mia Macy, a transgender woman who lives in California and the plaintiff in this case, claimed her rights had been violated when she was denied employment with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after they learned she was in the process of transitioning from male to female. Last week, the Department of Justice, which governs the Bureau and the defendant in the case, accepted the ruling and will now investigate Macy’s complaint under the purview of Title VII and its protections.
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Macy, who had been a police detective with the Phoenix (Arizona) Police Department and still known as a male at the time, had decided to relocate to San Francisco for family reasons. At the suggestion of her supervisor in Phoenix, she applied for a position open with the ATF at its Walnut Creek crime laboratory.
According to her complaint, she discussed the position with the director of the lab, during which they covered her experience, credentials, salary and benefits. Following that conversation as well as in a subsequent conversation, she says the director asserted that the position was hers pending completion of the background check. As evidence of her pending hire, the contractor responsible for filling the position “had contacted her to begin the necessary paperwork and that an investigator from the agency was assigned to do her background check,” according to the EEOC’s ruling.
However, five days after notifying the bureau of her change in name and gender, she received an email stating that, “due to budget reductions, the position at Walnut Creek was no longer available.” The problem? The position had not been cut and someone else had been hired to fill it.
Macy filed a formal EEO complaint with the agency, claiming sex discrimination on the basis of her “sex, gender identity (transgender woman) and on the basis of sex stereotyping.” In response, the ATF stated it was investigating the claim of discrimination based on “gender identity sex (female) stereotyping;” however, the agency argued that the claims of discrimination on the basis of gender identity stereotyping — i.e. transgender bias — did not fall under Title VII, but instead fell under Department of Justice policy — a policy that offers different rights than what’s offered under Title VII and EEOC regulations. Macy challenged the decision and the battle ultimately wound up in front of the EEOC, which ruled:
Thus, we conclude that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination “based on … sex”, and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII.
Nearly a month after that ruling, the DOJ and its agency ATF formally accepted the EEOC’s decision late last week. The Bureau’s EEO office sent a letter dated May 18 to Macy, “stating that it was accepting for investigation Macy’s claims of discrimination ‘based on gender (female), gender identity, gender stereotype, and or transgender status,’” according to Metro Weekly who reviewed the copy received by the Transgender Law Center earlier this week.
The EEOC ruling is consistent with previous decisions in the courts. In its opinion, the EEOC gave multiple examples of how the case falls within the purview of Title VII protections, noting “[t]here has … been a steady stream of district court decisions recognizing that discrimination against transgender individuals on the basis of sex stereotyping constitutes discrimination because of sex. Moreover, the EEOC recognized, sexual stereotyping is not the only basis for the case. For example, it would be Title VII discrimination to offer someone a job believing them to be male and then withdraw the job upon discovering they were female.
So, why would this case not fall within Title VII? Well, according to the EEOC it does. Employers should expect this reasoning to be adopted by the courts.