Individuals who are transgendered have long endured discrimination in every aspect of their lives, including in the workplace. Unfortunately, until recently, many of the legal remedies provided to other employees who suffer workplace sexual harassment and discrimination did not apply to transgender people. Consequently, there was very little a transgender employee who was forced to endure inappropriate and hateful comments or outright discrimination could do with regard to filing an employment lawsuit.

While it seems long overdue, last month, the U.S. Justice Department announced a change in its position regarding discrimination against transgender employees. Previously, the Justice Department held the position that federal law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not apply to transgender employees. However, in December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that transgender employees who work for state and local government entities are now protected under both laws.

Holder’s announcement was a big win for government transgender employees; however, debate remains about whether or not these same employment anti-discrimination and harassment laws pertain to transgender people who work for private employers.

The high-end department company Saks & Co. was recently sued by a former transgender employee who contends her co-workers subjected her to daily harassment and discrimination. Among the employee’s complaints are that she was forced to use the men’s’ restroom and that co-workers and her employer intentionally used male pronouns when discussing and addressing her. She was eventually fired from her position at the company; an act she contends was in retaliation after she complained about her treatment.

While the federal government now interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to apply to transgender employees, there has been no official U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter. In fact, Saks & Co. recently quoted a decision from the 7th circuit court and asserted that “it is ‘well settled’ that transgender people are not protected under Title VII … of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex.”

California transgender individuals who have suffered discrimination and harassment in the workplace would be wise to contact an attorney. Many state and federal agencies now hold the position that anti-discrimination and harassment laws also pertain to transgender employees.

Source: Time, “Does Saks Have the Legal Right to Fire a Transgender Employee?,” Katy Steinmetz, Jan. 12, 2015

New York Daily News, “Saks Fifth Avenue does not consider transgender employees protected by Title VII: lawsuit,” Nicole Hensley, Jan. 14, 2015