The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) welcomes the news that the City of Philadelphia has finally settled a federal anti-bias lawsuit brought by city library worker Bobbie Burnett. Ms. Burnett was subjected to years of workplace harassment and other discrimination after she transitioned on the job in 2002. Managers allegedly restricted her use of women’s restrooms on the job, gave her undesirable job assignments, limited her contact with the public, and disciplined her for frivolous reasons.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief in federal district court supporting Ms. Burnett’s case and arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on transgender status or gender transition. This filing is the latest signal that Federal Justice officials are taking the same position as the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: that federal sex discrimination laws protect transgender people.
Under the settlement, the city will pay nearly $400,000, much of it for Ms. Burnett’s legal expenses, and keep her in her job. This is not the first time Philadelphia has seen progress on the rights of trans people in recent years. One year ago, the city passed an LGBT equality bill that made several positive changes for transgender Philadelphians, including easing name and change changes in municipal records, requiring gender-neutral restrooms in city facilities, and establishing a tax credit to encourage employers to eliminate trans health exclusions. And last summer, the city’s public transit system ended the long-derided practice of placing gender stickers on transit passes.
This is not the first time the Department of Justice has stood up for transgender people in a civil rights case. Last spring, the DOJ and the Department of Education reached an historic resolution agreement with a California school district that had excluded a transgender boy from restroom facilities and accommodation on a field trip. DOJ is currently in federal court in Texas in a case it brought under the Fair Housing Act on behalf of a transgender woman and her partner who were evicted from an RV park.
“The Justice Department’s brief in Burnett’s case is another example of the resounding consensus among federal agencies that transgender people are protected by sex discrimination laws,” said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. “We support transgender people like Bobbie for asserting their rights under sex discrimination laws, but employers across the country need, once and for all, an explicit federal mandate banning gender identity discrimination at work. The U.S. House of Representatives should act now to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that has already passed the U.S. Senate.”