Although Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, it makes no reference to transgender individuals, nor does it protect against discrimination based on "gender identity". So is it illegal to fire an employee because he or she is transgender?
In one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the EEOC regarding sex discrimination against transgender individuals, Lakeland Eye Clinic in Florida was accused of sex discrimination after firing an employee who had performed her duties satisfactorily but who then announced that she was transgender.
In the other lawsuit, a Detroit based funeral home is accused of discriminating based on sex when it fired an embalmer because she was transitioning from being male to female. Amiee Stephens worked at RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes from October 2007 until last year when she notified the company she was undergoing a gender transition procedure, according to the complaint filed in Michigan federal court. Two weeks after Stephens notified her employer of the procedure, she was terminated for "proposing to do" what the company believed was unacceptable, according to the complaint.
The lawsuits were filed based on a 2012 decision by the EEOC in which it ruled for the first time that discrimination against transgender employees is covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Such administrative decisions are not binding on the courts, but they do have some influence, and are indicative of a trend.
"An employee should not be denied employment opportunities because he or she does not conform to the preferred or expected gender norms or roles of the employer or co-workers," said Malcolm S. Medley, director for the EEOC's Miami District Office. "Protections must be afforded to such employees."