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Transgender veteran wins sex discrimination lawsuit


Excellent news from last week:

Today a federal judge ruled that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against a Special Forces veteran when she was denied a job after announcing her intention to transition from male to female. In a groundbreaking decision, the court ruled that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.

--ACLU press release, 19 September 2008

It sounds like a pretty clear-cut case, and I'm pleased that Ms. Schroer won.

I'm especially glad to see this bit:

The lawsuit charged that the Library of Congress unlawfully refused to hire Schroer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against sex discrimination in the workplace. The Library of Congress moved to dismiss the case several times, claiming that transgender people are not covered under Title VII of 1964. After a trial last month, the court rejected those arguments and ruled that the Library illegally discriminated against Schroer in violation of Title VII.

The court's full decision is worth reading, or at least skimming, if you're interested in this stuff. Here's a key quote:

Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism. Imagine too that her employer testifies that he harbors no bias toward either Christians or Jews but only "converts." That would be a clear case of discrimination "because of religion." No court would take seriously the notion that "converts" are not covered by the statute.

--p. 31 of ruling

Here's another line I liked:

Deference to the real or presumed biases of others is discrimination, no less than if an employer acts on behalf of his own prejudices.

--p. 20 of ruling

And here's something I didn't know:

[N]umerous federal courts have concluded that punishing employees for failure to conform to sex stereotypes is actionable sex discrimination under Title VII.

--p. 22 of ruling

The ruling goes on to clarify that that conclusion may not be quite as broad as it sounds, but still.

I also liked this:

Discrimination because of race has never been limited only to discrimination for being one race or another.

--footnote 8, p. 32 of ruling

And finally, I'm particularly amused to see the ruling quote Justice Scalia:

But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils[....]

--p. 33 of ruling

Anyway, good stuff. Yay for Judge Robertson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia! And yay for the ACLU!

For more details, and a nice little video of Ms. Schroer telling her story, plus copies of a bunch of legal documents, follow the above link to the press release and/or see the ACLU's Schroer v. Library of Congress case profile page. (Legal documents are linked at the bottom of that case profile page.)


Happy news. I was hoping the good guys would win this one.

I had my say on the judgment here. It is certainly wonderful news, but it is by no means outright victory. To start with the case may be appealed, although as Jillian Weiss points out Judge Robertson has done his best to make that difficult. Also it appears that the Library of Congress approached the case fairly badly. There is plenty of precedent that refusing to give someone a job because they are transgender is legal in many states, and is not covered by Title VII. If the Library had simply said, "it is our policy not to employ transsexuals" they might have got away with it. What they seem to have done wrong is say the equivalent of, "we don't employ transsexuals because we think that they are disgusting, horrible people, and so do our clients." And that, as Judge Robertson quickly saw, was discrimination.

This case isn't going to remove the need for specific employment protection, because there is still way to much precedent out there that needs to be overruled. In addition, as I pointed out at my own post, even in the Bay Area, which is protected by California's employment law, only 25% of transgender people have full time jobs. Legal protection does not guarantee jobs.

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