Ask Lambda Legal – Transitioning at Work

Q: I’m a transgender woman, and it is time for me to transition at work, but I am concerned about being able to keep my job.  Will the law protect me from the discrimination I might face because I’m transitioning? 
A: As far as we’ve come in the march towards equality, there are still many legal hurdles for the transgender community, particularly when it comes to employment — but we’re making significant progress in the courts.

A recent Lambda Legal case, Glenn v. Brumby et al., is an example of a positive ruling where a transgender woman faced discrimination when she found the courage to transition at work. Vandy Beth Glenn was working as a legislative editor in Atlanta, Ga., for two years. After working with her doctor and establishing that gender transition was necessary (Glenn was assigned male sex at birth, but has a female gender identity), she informed her immediate supervisor at the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel that she planned to transition. The head of the office subsequently called her to his office, confirmed that she intended to transition, and fired her on the spot.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Glenn, asserting that her termination was a result of sex discrimination – a violation of the U.S. equal protection guarantee. On Dec. 6, 2011, only five days after a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments, they unanimously upheld a District Court ruling that the Georgia General Assembly had discriminated against Glenn based on her nonconformity with gender stereotypes occurring as a result of her intent to transition. Three days after the ruling, she returned to work.

Lambda Legal is very excited by the impact of our victory in Glenn v. Brumby et al., but there is still a lot of work to be done to advance workplace equality for transgender people.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in private and public employment on the basis of gender identity/expression: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Vermont. A growing number of cities and counties have implemented non-discrimination ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity for both public and private employees in the absence of a comparable state law.

To learn more about your rights at work and how to transition smoothly at work, read our Transgender Rights Toolkit: Workplace Rights & Wrongs here: www.lambdalegal.org/publications/trt_workplace-rights-wrongs

For information on Lambda Legal’s work with transgender rights, see lambdalegal.org/issues/transgender-rights

If you have any questions or feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender identity/expression, please contact our help desk at 866-542-8336 or visit lambdalegal.org/help.

Greg Nevins is the Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in the Southern Regional Office of Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people. Nevins was part of Glenn’s legal team in Glenn v. Brumby et al.

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