ERS Group Insights

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EEOC Files First Ever Transgender Lawsuits

- Monday, November 10, 2014

A 2011 UCLA report issued in 2011 estimates the number of individuals who identify themselves as transgender in the United States at 0.3% of the US population, or a very small percentage of the 3.5% of the population who identify themselves as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). See the full UCLA report here.


A more recent 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, which also measured American sexual orientation, didn’t even include transgender status in the survey, and found that less than 3% of the population identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.


EEOC Enforcement – A Year in Review

At the federal level, and at the state and local level in some parts of the United States, there has been a push to ensure that transgender individuals are not excluded from protections now given to lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. In September 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) signed a conciliation agreement with a supermarket owner who agreed to pay $50,000 to an employee who was fired for being transgender. In July this year, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672 prohibiting federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The US Department of Labor has subsequently been updating its enforcement protocols and guidance to reflect this order and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs issued a directive in August, deferring to the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII and case law which concludes that “disparate treatment of a transgender employee because he or she does not conform to the gender stereotypes associated with his or her biological sex is a form of sex discrimination.”


Last month, approximately one year after the EEOC and the supermarket owner signed the conciliation agreement, the EEOC proactively filed two separate federal lawsuits against two businesses alleging workplace discrimination against transgender people in violation of Title VII.


  • First, the agency filed EEOC v. R.G. & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. (filed in Michigan). In this Detroit funeral home case, the employee, Aimee Stephens was employed as a Director/Embalmer since 2007, but was fired in 2013 after she informed the Funeral Home she was transitioning from male to female.

  • Second, there is EEOC v. Lakeland Eye Clinic (filed in Florida). In the Lakeland Eye Clinic case, Brandi Branson was hired as a male, and claims she began experiencing harassment, followed by termination, after she began presenting herself as a female.


The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan includes ”coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals under Title VII” as a top priority and was cited in the press releases of both of these cases. 


Contact ERS Group’s Employment Discrimination Experts for more information.

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