Employment is one of the most legally challenging and personally difficult areas for TGNC people. And work is essential: Many people define themselves by it, spend lots of time doing it and can’t make a living or afford health care coverage without it. In a 2011 transgender survey, 90% of respondents reported workplace mistreatment or discrimination, and 26% said they lost work because of their gender identity or expression.
Being fired is especially harmful for someone already struggling with workplace tensions or outright abuse. Transgender survey respondents who had lost a job were four times as likely to be homeless as those who didn’t lose a job; 70% more likely to have drinking or drug problems; and 50% more likely to be incarcerated.
Recently, there’s been some success using federal sex discrimination law and state disability law to protect TGNC rights. Some states and cities are moving ahead with ordinances as well.
Private industry’s record is a mixed bag. Eighty-two percent of Fortune 100 companies have transgender-inclusive non-discrimination policies. But many are just beginning to address discrimination in their health insurance policies, thanks in part to a revised Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. In our successful effort in Esquivel v. Oregon, Lambda Legal maintained that a transgender state employee’s denial of medically necessary health care was employment discrimination (see Lambda Legal’s “Transition-Related Health Care,” another fact sheet in this Transgender Rights Toolkit).
What’s especially important at this point is for public and private employers to be explicit about protecting transgender workers, whether by clarifying existing protections under sex as encompassing “gender identity” or by adding a separate category.
Otherwise, even very extreme and obvious discrimination—such as that faced by Vandy Beth Glenn, fired after years of service when she attempted to transition on the job (she is featured below)—will continue to require considerable sweat, tears, time and money to challenge. And many well-meaning employers will remain confused about how their transgender employees are protected by the law.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585,120 Wall Street, Suite 1900, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, contact our Help Desk at www.lambdalegal.org/help.