The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a ruling giving transgender individuals protections against discrimination in the workplace, concluding that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on…sex’ and such discrimination…violates Title VII.” For California employers, discrimination against transgender employees and job applicants has been prohibited since 2004, when the Legislature passed the Gender Nondiscrimination Bill of 2003 and in so doing amended the Fair Employment and Housing Act to specifically include transgender people. But California is in the minority of states, as only fifteen other states prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity. No federal court has held that Title VII’s anti-discrimination provisions apply to transgender people, but the practical effect of the EEOC’s ruling is transgender people are now protected by federal law and have legal recourse if they are denied a job or fired because they are transgender.
The ruling came as a result of a discrimination complaint filed by a transgender woman who was denied a job as a ballistics technician at the Walnut Creek, California laboratory of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The applicant was a veteran and former police detective, and initially applied for the position as a male and was told that she was virtually guaranteed the job. After she disclosed her gender transition in the middle of the hiring process, the applicant was told that funding for the position had been cut, and subsequently learned that someone else had been hired for the job.
Even though the complaint was brought against a federal agency, the EEOC’s ruling applies to both public and private employers alike. California employers should have already taken measures to ensure against discrimination, including discrimination against those who are transgender. But given yesterday’s decision, companies in all fifty states – including California employers with operations in other states – should take steps to prevent such discrimination. For example, employers should make sure that “gender identity” is part of the existing company nondiscrimination and anti-harassment workplace policies, and strive to create a non-discriminatory environment in the workplace so as to avoid costly litigation.
The Ninth Circuit held that where attendance is an essential function of the job (isn’t it always?), an employer’s enforcement of its attendance points policy as to a disabled employee does not constitute a failure to reasonably accommodate under the ADA. In this particular case, the employee was a neonatal intensive care nurse who had an abominable attendance record due to a multitude of stated reasons, ranging from fibromyalgia to personal life issues. Even though she worked part-time and only a couple of shifts per week, she was continually absent. She also took a variety of leaves of absence, all accommodated by her employer. The employer had an attendance policy that allowed up to five unplanned absences in a rolling 12 month period. This employee regularly exceeded the limit and had a history of performance discipline for her unexcused absences. The employer quite reasonably tried to work with the employee to save her, allowed several exceptions from the policy for her, and gave her numerous chances to improve her attendance and escape termination. The employee nonetheless did not improve her attendance and admittedly continued to exceed the allowed unplanned absences under the attendance policy (she was even absent for a planned meeting to discuss her attendance). She requested that her employer except her from the attendance policy and essentially allow her uncapped unplanned absences, apparently as a “reasonable accommodation” for some sort of disability. The employer did not agree. She was ultimately terminated (duh). Not to be deterred, she filed a lawsuit claiming the employer violated her ADA rights by not excepting her from the attendance policy as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
In the lawsuit, the employer did not dispute that the employee was disabled. The dispute focused instead on whether the employer had a duty to except the employee from the attendance policy as a reasonable accommodation. The trial court said no and granted the employer summary judgment. The employee appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which agreed with the trial court. The Ninth Circuit held that the employer had adequately established that regular attendance is an essential function of the position of a neonatal ICU nurse and that an employer is not required by the ADA to relieve a disabled employee from essential functions as an accommodation. Note: The ADA is a federal protection. Those employers in California have to be careful under the Fair Employment & Housing Act which has a stricter guideline than the ADA.