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EEOC rules job protections also apply to transgender people

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had inconsistently enforced the law when it came to transgender workers. The ruling allows a transgender woman's complaint of bias against a federal agency to proceed.

April 25, 2012|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times

A former soldier and police officer who transitioned from male to female has been allowed to proceed with a complaint against the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives alleging job discrimination based on gender.

A ruling this week by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is being seen as clarifying that rules of employment law apply to transgender people, who may file complaints under federal anti-discrimination statutes.

In an email to The Times, EEOC spokeswoman Christine Nazer wrote that the ruling is now "the EEOC's position, and we will apply it in all our enforcement activities" under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits job discrimination based on race, sex, religion and national origin.

That will include investigations into discrimination complaints against private and public employers, Nazer wrote.

Until now, EEOC enforcement of federal employment law "across the country has been inconsistent" when it comes to transgender people, said Jennifer Pizer, legal director of the Williams Institute, a think tank on issues related to gender and the law at UCLA Law School.

"There has been confusion because this is an area of law that has evolved over time," Pizer said. "There is now a national understanding from this administration that this protection exists."

Court decisions have held that transgender people enjoy federal anti-discrimination protection. In those decisions, courts said "practices should change," Pizer said. "I think this decision means practices will change."

The case involves Mia Macy, a transgender woman and former Phoenix police officer who had worked on an ATF ballistics team while in Phoenix. Macy said she heard about a ballistics job at an ATF laboratory in Walnut Creek, Calif., applied for it in 2010 and was accepted, pending a background check.

Macy said she applied for the job as a man, but meanwhile went through a transition to female. Macy said the ATF lab officials were notified of her transition.

Macy said she and her wife moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Then she was told the job had been eliminated due to budget cuts. Later, she learned that the job had been filled.

With lawyers from the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, which is based in San Francisco, Macy filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2011 alleging sex and gender discrimination.

The agency responded by denying the complaint, saying that transgender people were not covered under EEOC complaint procedures.

The ruling, which sets the agency's national policy, also allows Macy's complaint to go forward, said Matt Wood, attorney at the Transgender Law Center.

An ATF spokeswoman in the Bay Area said Justice Department policy "prohibits us from commenting on any ongoing civil litigation."

Macy, in a telephone interview with The Times, said "I'm thrilled to death that we've gotten this ruling and I'm thrilled for every transgender person in the country. But there's a sad side that I had to go through it."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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