Transgender Awareness Week Highlights Transgender Employment Right & Discrimination Risks

November 15, 2021

November 13-20 promises to be a week with transgender issues front and center for employers in the U.S. and other regions of the world joining in the 2021 observance of Transgender Awareness Week from November 13-20 and the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20.  Employer can anticipate invitations to join in the observances as well as heightened emphasis and communications about transgender rights and concerns as agencies like the Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and other federal and state governmental agencies involved in these concerns as well as various transgender advocacy groups participate in these annual observances.

Reportedly first celebrated in 1999, the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorates victims of anti-transgender hate crimes, During the day, transgender people and their allies take action to bring attention to the transgender community and advance advocacy to address the prejudice, discrimination, and violence the community faces.  Leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Awareness Week observed November 13th to November 19th annually generally is observed through a series of events intended to educate about transgender and gender non-conforming people and the issues associated with their transition or identity.

Transgender Employment Discrimination Risks Rising

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that the sex discrimination prohibitions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect  applicants and employees from employment discrimination based on transgender or other sexual preferences.  In keeping with this decision, the Department of Labor Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has adopted and administer aggressive educational outreach, investigation and enforcement programs targeting employment discrimination against transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay (“LBGT”) individuals based on their sexual orientation.  Additionally, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCC”) since 2014 has explicitly prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on gender identity and sexual orientation and under the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to firmly administering the prohibitions against discrimination against employees and applicants announced in Executive Order 11246 against federal government contractors and grant recipients.    

The Biden-Harris Administration has heightened this emphasis by making sexual orientation discrimination a priority.  In March, President Biden became the first President to recognize Transgender Day of Visibility, calling upon all individuals to join in the fight for full equality for all transgender people. On day one of this Administration, President Biden issued Executive Order 13988Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, in which he stated:

Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation manifests differently for different individuals, and it often overlaps with other forms of prohibited discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race or disability.  For example, transgender Black Americans face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and violence, including fatal violence. It is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.  It is also the policy of my Administration to address overlapping forms of discrimination.  

In keeping with this commitment, OFCCP and EEOC both are stepping up their outreach and enforcement.   On June 28, 2021, the EEOC published its Frequently Asked Questions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. and has made LBTG discrimination an investigation and enforcement priority that has resulted in several charges.  In August, 2021, for instance, the EEOC sued an Applebee’s franchise for allegedly discriminating based on sexual orientation by subjecting a Black line cook to a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation and race and then allegedly retaliating against him for complaining..  On October 26, 2021, for instance, the EEOC announced that Minnesota furniture retailer Frizzell Furniture agreed to pay $60,000, revise its policies and conduct training to resolve a finding of gender identity sex discrimination.  According to the EEOC, its investigation showed Frizzell Furniture did not hire a job applicant for a sales position because he is transgender.  A hiring official informed the applicant he would not “mix well with the customers.” ddition, OFCCP has announced that it also is also exploring a method for voluntary self-identification to solicit and record information for people who have a non-binary gender identity.

Meanwhile, OFCCP also published its own Frequently Asked Questions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in June, 2021. The OFCCP Guidance addresses the responsibility of government contractors and subcontractors to contract not to discriminate based on sexual preference and addresses the OFCCP’s expectations about the basic steps that contractors should take in advertising job positions, screening applicants, administering restroom access and other matters of concern relating to compliance with these obligations.  It also subsequently announced that it also is also exploring a method for voluntary self-identification to solicit and record information for people who have a non-binary gender identity. 

In the face of these developments, employers and others covered by Title VII should be aware and exhibit sensitivity during this week’s observances.  In addition, the observances this week provide an excellent reminder of the advisability of reviewing and tightening existing policies and practices regarding transgender and other policies, practices and training regarding sexual preference nondiscrimination in the workplace.

For Help Or More Information

For help developing, administering or defending your organization’s LBGT or other equal employment opportunity policies and practices, or other workforce, employee benefits, compensation or compliance practices, contact the author.

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About the Author

.  Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney who has advised and represented employers, employee benefit plans and others  and has spoken and published extensively regarding LBGT and other equal employment opportunity concerns for more than 25 years.  Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

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