EEOC Sues Private Employers for Transgender Bias

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing two private employers, alleging for the first time sex discrimination in violation of Title VII based on actions taken against transgender employees. The lawsuits allege that the employees, who were transitioning from male to female, were discriminated against because they did not conform to their employer’s gender- or sex-based stereotypes, expectations, or preferences. This marks the implementation of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan of furthering Title VII’s protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

In the Michigan case, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., the EEOC is suing a funeral home that terminated its director/embalmer after it disapproved of her plan to start wearing female clothing to work as she underwent the transition from male to female. The other lawsuit, EEOC v. Lakeland Eye Clinic, filed in Florida, involves an eye clinic that stopped referring patients and then terminated an employee when she began wearing makeup and women’s clothing to work and disclosed that she was undergoing gender transition.

Employers should consider these lawsuits a reminder that the EEOC is indeed focusing on furthering transgender rights and sex discrimination claims.