Know Your Rights

Introduction and Vandy Beth’s Story

Getting and keeping a regular job is out of reach for many transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people, and the experiences endured when they do have a job can be just as traumatic. Whether accused of using the “wrong” bathroom, harassed for not matching one gender stereotype or another or being the only one in the office turned down for medically necessarily health care, TGNC employees often face humiliating treatment and unfair policies every day of the week.

(To read our FAQ about transgender rights in the workplace, click here.)

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.

My Story: Despair every day, then a groundbreaking victory
Vandy Beth Glenn

“I lost my job as an editor for the Georgia General Assembly when I told my boss I planned to transition. He told me that that would be seen as ‘immoral’ and couldn’t ‘happen appropriately’ in the workplace. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about that moment. Every day I revisited the anger, humiliation and despair I felt.

“In August 2010 a lower court ordered me reinstated. While the case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, I received my full salary and benefits. My appeal was heard in December

2011 and we had a positive decision just five days later. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court ruling that the Georgia General Assembly had discriminated against me. [Read “Victory: Equal protection for trans employees for more information.]

“I hope all similar cases will have a similar outcome. But even more, I hope they put a federal law in place that will make clear such discrimination is illegal, and then people won’t have to go through what I went through.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Legal Help Desk toll-free at  866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.