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U.S. agency files first lawsuits protecting transgender workers

A funeral home in Michigan and an eye clinic in Florida broke the law when they fired employees who were making a transition from male to female, according to lawsuits suits filed by a federal agency Sept. 26. The lawsuits mark the first time the U.S. government has sued employers to protect the rights of transgender individuals.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that a Garden City, Michigan, funeral home and a Lakeland, Florida, eye clinic disobeyed federal statutes that protect employees from discrimination based on gender stereotypes. In 2013, the funeral home fired an embalmer and funeral director who had worked there for six years after she told her boss she was transitioning from male to female. In 2011, the eye clinic dismissed their director of hearing services after she began her transition to female and began wearing women's clothing to work.

The filing by the EEOC stated that employers cannot dismiss employees who act in ways contrary to stereotypes the employer has regarding typical male and female behaviors. The EEOC enforces federal laws protecting employees from discrimination based on race, nationality, religion and sex under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A 2011 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 90 percent of transgender people in the survey had experienced discrimination or harassment on the job. Of that group, 47 percent reported being denied employment, passed over for a promotion or fired. In Michigan, individuals who experience gender discrimination at work can file a complaint with the EEOC. If the agency finds evidence of discrimination under federal law, that individual may be given the right to sue. An attorney who is familiar with employee rights cases could help a person build a strong case seeking compensation for discrimination, harassment or wrongful termination.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. Government Lawsuits Target Transgender Discrimination In Workplace," Mica Rosenberg, Sept. 29, 2014

Source: The Huffington Post, "First U.S. Lawsuit Over Firings Of Transgender Employees Filed By Federal Agency", Ed White, September 25, 2014

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