The fight for LGBT rights has been a long and difficult one, and progress has not been uniform among the four groups that fall under the LGBT banner. The gay and lesbian communities have made important gains in efforts to combat discrimination in housing, services and employment (although employment protections are not as far-reaching as they could be).
Unfortunately, transgender individuals tend to face much more discrimination and harassment than the rest of the LGBT community. But that may slowly be changing thanks to high-profile lawsuits and other legal actions by advocacy groups. Recently, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached a settlement with a company that allegedly condoned and participated in discrimination and harassment against a transgender employee.
Deluxe Financial Services Corp. is a Minnesota-based check-printing company with nearly 33 facilities throughout the United States. An employee at Deluxe's Phoenix location, born male, had worked for the company for many years and had satisfactory performance evaluations. However, things changed after the employee made the transition from male to female.
When she informed her supervisor of her switch, the company allegedly refused to let her use the women's restrooms. She was also allegedly subjected to a hostile work environment by both her co-workers and her supervisors. According to news sources, colleagues continued to refer to her using male pronouns and also subjected her to "hurtful epithets."
To casual observers, gender identity discrimination may seem like it is a new phenomenon. As such, they may wonder whether it is banned under federal law. The EEOC has previously held that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination, which is prohibited under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In settling the EEOC lawsuit, Deluxe has agreed to pay $115,000 in monetary damages and to make specific changes to the company's health benefits plan (related to coverage of certain medical procedures). Deluxe must also write a letter of apology to the woman and provide a letter of reference when the woman seeks other employment.
The push for transgender acceptance and equality has been met with considerable resistance. To a small extent, this is understandable. For most of human history, male and female were labels that the majority of us simply took for granted. But while it may take some time to change hearts and minds, laws and basic human decency must be upheld immediately. Employers do not have the right to discriminate against or condone harassment of transgender employees.