On April 20, 2012, in the case of Macy v. Holder, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that transgender individuals are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
The EEOC’s ruling arose out of a complaint of discrimination filed by Mia Macy. Macy was a police detective, who was denied a position by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Macy claims that she was denied the position because she informed the contractor for the position that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female. Macy filed a formal EEOC complaint of discrimination with the ATF in which she alleged that she was not hired based on sex and gender identity stereotyping. The ATF informed Macy that it would only process her claim “based on sex (female)” under Title VII, and Macy’s claim based on “gender identity stereotyping” would be handled under its “policy and practice.” Macy appealed the ATF’s decision to the EEOC that, because the ATF is a federal agency, acts more as an appellate body than a primary investigatory agency, which is different from the EEOC’s role with respect to complaints against private employers.
In making its determination, the EEOC analyzed a number of federal cases that have recognized that claims of discrimination based on gender identity stereotyping are covered under Title VII. In its opinion, the EEOC 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.
In regard to the impact of this decision, the ruling in Macy will be followed by the EEOC in its investigations of these types of complaints by job applicants and employees against employers for discrimination based on a person’s transgender status. The ruling will not be binding, however, in state and federal courts but is expected to have influence on how courts will view and decide cases or appeals involving complaints against private sector employers. In addition, EEOC offices throughout the United States will now be accepting and investigating Title VII claims against private sector employers alleging discrimination based on transgender status, though it should be noted that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court that decides appeals from federal courts in North Carolina, has not ruled yet on the issue of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on transgender status. Employers should consult employment counsel for guidance on adverse employment actions involving a transgender job applicant or employee.