A 11th Circuit decision extends a U.S. Supreme Court 1989 ruling protecting transgender individuals from discrimination at the workplace. Significantly, the decision was unanimously decided and is part of a growing trend where courts are expanding upon the rights provided to transgender individuals to protect them from discrimination based upon sex.
The suit came about when the plaintiff, in a conversation with her employer, was expressly asked whether the plaintiff was sincere in her decision to become a woman. When the plaintiff answered in the affirmative she was promptly fired from her job.
In workplace situations, employers often attempt to deflect any criticisms of their actions by distinguishing between one type of discrimination and another. However, this ruling essentially asserts that transgender discrimination is a form of discrimination based upon sex and is thus entitled to “heightened scrutiny” under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. This particular suit rejected the notion that harassment by the employers or other workers was required before such a suit could be successfully litigated.
Acceptance of transgender individuals is anything but universal and therefore representation of such individuals is not always simple. Discrimination will continue as long as attitudes in the workplace have not kept pace with notions of fairness or equal treatment. Competent counsel familiar with constitutional issues and experienced in trying discrimination claims is often required to insure that employment discrimination does not occur.
Hopefully, the above decision will at least make employees more aware that such practices will not be tolerated. Discrimination takes many forms and should not be allowed in the workplace.
Source: The Daily Report, “Transgender woman’s sex bias claim upheld,” by Alyson M. Palmer, Dec. 7, 2011