The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) applauds the work of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Lambda Legal in reaching a landmark settlement on behalf of a transgender victim of job discrimination. Cory McCreery, an employee at a grocery store in South Dakota, was fired after announcing her plan to transition. Lambda Legal filed a complaint on McCreery’s behalf, stating that the termination constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After an investigation, the EEOC made a finding that there was reasonable cause to believe the termination was unlawful. Following this finding, a conciliation agreement was reached to avoid litigation in federal court. The agreement includes the maximum allowable monetary amount in a case of this type, as well as requiring the former employer to post a public notice about discrimination on the workplace bulletin board, host annual trainings on workplace discrimination and issue a letter of apology and letter of recommendation for McCreery. NCTE urges any transgender worker who has experienced job discrimination in any job to reach out for legal help now and file a complaint with the EEOC.
The settlement in McCreery’s case follows a string of court decisions finding anti-trans bias is prohibited by Title VII, as well as a formal decision by the EEOC itself last year in Macy v. Holder. In Macy, a transgender woman was denied a job with a federal agency after disclosing that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female. The case was brought before the EEOC, which held that discrimination based on a person’s gender non-conformity, transgender status or plan to transition genders constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. The Macy decision established the EEOC’s official position, and is binding on federal agencies, but not binding on courts in private-sector cases, though we hope it would be pursuasive. While not establishing a legal precedent, the settlement in Ms. McCreery’s cases is a milestone because it is the first time the EEOC has reached a settlement on behalf of a worker for gender identity discrimination. This is a strong signal that the EEOC will seriously pursue discrimination against trans people, wherever it occurs. (The EEOC issued a statement about the settlement on its own website.)
This string of legal developments means that transgender workers who face discrimination in any part of the country today have legal recourse – but it does not provide the kind of secure and explicit protection that will prevent discrimination from occurring in the first place. Nor, in those cases where an employer refuses to settle and instead goes to court, does it guarantee every court will yet agree that we are protected. The only way to ensure that every worker and every employer knows trans people are protected is to have Congress write it explicitly into federal law. NCTE will continue to work hard to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and to strongly encourage those facing discrimination today to exercise their rights, including by filing a complaint with the EEOC.
If you or someone you know has experienced gender identity discrimination on the job, we encourage you to reach out for help and assert your rights. For more information about the rights and procedures available to transgender employees seeking to address discrimination, download NCTE’s, Know Your Rights: Employment Discrimination and Transgender People.