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LGBTQ+ History Month Spotlight: Transgender Rights

An overview of the history of transgender rights in the United States

Legal Basis for Discrimination Protections

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • Title VII prohibits discrimination in the context of employment for several protected groups of people.

    • It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -

      (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;

  • A core legal battle in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has been whether or not employment discrimination against people based on their queerness or gender nonconformity is included in discrimination "on the basis of sex," and therefore protected against under Title VII.

Title VII Cases

Holloway v. Arthur Anderson Co. (9th Cir. 1977)

  • Plaintiff, Ramona Holloway, brought a Title VII discrimination case against her former employer, as she was fired after communicating her intent to transition & undergo gender-affirming care.
  • The Ninth Circuit declined to apply Title VII coverage to those discriminated against due to Transgender status:
    • “This type of claim is not actionable under Title VII and is certainly not in violation of the doctrines of Due Process and Equal Protection.Holloway v. Arthur Andersen Co., 566 F.2d 659, 664 (9th Cir. 1977)

Ulane v. Eastern Airlines (7th Cir. 1984)

  • The 7th Cir. overruled the district court's ruling (allowing for compensation of a trans pilot who was fired) on the basis that the discrimination was not on the basis of sex, but due to the act of transitioning/transgender status.

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 

  • Discrimination against an employee on the basis of sex stereotyping--that is, a person's nonconformity to social or other expectations of that person's gender--constitutes impermissible sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employer bears the burden of proving that the adverse employment action would have been the same if sex discrimination had not occurred.

Schroer v. Billington, 577 F.Supp.2d 293 (D.D.C. 2008) 

  • On September 19, 2008, a federal district judge ruled that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against Schroer, in a groundbreaking decision that found that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.

Macy v. Holder, No. 0120120821 (E.E.O.C. Apr. 20, 2012) 

  • Agency Decision: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held that Title VII protected against discrimination related to gender identity or transgender status.

Supreme Court Ruling: Bostock v. Clayton County (2020)

  • In a landmark victory for trans rights, the Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII protections apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation & gender identity. 
  • In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that:

[Title VII]’s message for our cases is...simple and momentous: An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex. 140 S. Ct. 1731, 1741