Transgender Community Steps Closer to Employment Equality

A South Dakota woman’s settlement is the latest in a string of cases that say transgender discrimination is applicable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

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A transgender woman has reached a $50,000 settlement with her former employer in a discrimination case in South Dakota, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Monday,  accelerating a trend toward equal opportunity for transgender workers.

Cori McCreery, 29, was fired in 2010 after telling her employer at Don’s Valley Market in Rapid City, S.D. that she would be transitioning on the job. Lambda Legal, a legal organization for lesbian, gay, and transgender people as well as those living with HIV, filed a complaint on McCreery’s behalf in 2012 in partnership with the EEOC, saying her employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

McCreery will receive $50,000 according to a statement on the EEOC website and there will be a public notice on the bulletin board of her former employer, Lambda says. The employer will also be responsible for issuing an apology and letter of recommendation to McCreery.

“This comprehensive settlement makes a strong statement about the EEOC’s commitment that discrimination against transgender workers will not be tolerated,” said Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project Director for Lambda Legal said in a statement. “The days of firing people on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression have passed. “

A comment was not immediately available from a representative of the employer in the case.

In April 2012, the EEOC issued a landmark decision for a transgender discrimination case, Macy v. Holder, which classified discrimination based on gender identity as a violation of Title VII, which prohibits work place discrimination. In July, Lambda Legal helped a transgender woman in Maryland reach a settlement after she faced verbal and physical harassment on the job over two years.

Brian Moulton, the legal director for the Human Rights campaign, says while this settlement and those that have come before it represent a positive movement in regard to LGBT rights, Title VII can only do so much.

“The application of Title VII for transgender people is an encouraging trend, but it’s just that—a trend,” Moulton told TIME. “We’re still a ways from being clear to employers across the country on the basis of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Though Title VII provides protection, there is no federal law prohibiting discrimination against either transgender or lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, currently 16 states and D.C., along with 150 cities and counties, have laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Twenty-one states and D.C. have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide that federal protection, was introduced in both houses of the 113th Congress this year. In July, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the bill.