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What you should know about transgender discrimination at work

Transgender rights have recently become a hot button issue, especially with some state governments debating bills that could adversely affect these rights. Under federal law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against transgender individuals in Minnesota and the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

The role of the EEOC is to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes workplace discrimination illegal. Within the act, there is no explicit language that includes the transgender community under those protected from discrimination. It does include references to national origin, age, disability, sex, religion, color, race and genetic information.

Over the years, the EEOC and the Supreme Court have taken measures to interpret the information as new cases have arisen. They have determined that gender stereotyping, sexual orientation and gender identity are also protected under this law. In these instances, the national law that protects against transgender discrimination trumps that of any state or local government. Although this is just the EEOC's interpretation of the law, several court rulings provide additional support to these views.

Provisions and protection that fall under Title VII include the right for transgender individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity at work, to transition without fear of being fired, to not have their gender identity bear weight in a hiring decision, to have protection from harassment, and to be addressed by their preferred name and gender pronoun.

However, because the law does not explicitly state the protection of transgender individuals from discrimination, there remains room for problems. According to USA today, a law that would make this type of discrimination illegal passed the Senate, but it was left on the House floor in 2013. President Obama took action in 2014 to further prevent the discrimination of transgender individuals, as well as others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, from workplace discrimination by signing an executive order. However, the order only affects government employees and businesses that receive federal contracts and not employees of businesses in the private sector.

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