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DOJ memo: Employers cannot discriminate on basis of gender identity

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made headlines yesterday after releasing a memo discussing the Justice Department's stance on workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Specifically, Holder's memo establishes that it is the unequivocal position of the DOJ that workplace discrimination against transgendered people is strictly proscribed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.

Holder also conceded that members of Congress likely did not consider the possibility of workplace discrimination based on gender identity when they originally passed the measure 50 years ago. However, he went on to point out that the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that the language of the bill is to be interpreted by the meaning of its plain text, while also stating that "statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils."

Interestingly enough, while the Justice Department's stance against workplace discrimination based on gender identity marks something of a departure from the stance taken by prior administrations, courts across the nation have slowly been reaching this same conclusion regarding federal protections in recent years.

The DOJ memo was widely embraced by transgendered advocates, many of whom have long voiced concern over the employment and workplace obstacles that many transgender people encounter.

Indeed, the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which polled 6,450 transgender people here in the U.S., found that transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed as other Americans and far more likely to be impoverished, two realities that the survey authors attributed to difficulty securing employment.

 In addition, the survey made the following shocking findings:

  • 47 percent of transgender people were victimized by some sort of adverse employment action, including termination or being passed over for promotions.
  • 90 percent of transgender people were victimized by discrimination, harassment or mistreatment at their workplaces.  

If you have been victimized by any sort of workplace discrimination, always remember that you have options and you have rights. An experienced legal professional can outline these rights, answer your questions and explain how you can pursue justice.

Source: The Washington Post, "DOJ: Transgender people can't be discriminated against at work," Sandhya Somashekhar, Dec. 18, 2014

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