EEOC files first transgender-discrimination lawsuits

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed two lawsuits representing its first-ever complaints charging that companies violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against transgender people.

The cases involve Lakeland Eye Clinic, a Lakeland, Fla.-based company, and Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. The EEOC accused both companies of firing long-standing employees after they came out as transgender and informed the company that would soon begin to dress as the opposite sex at work.

The EEOC contends that the firings violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, and recently has been interpreted by the Obama administration to include discrimination "based on gender stereotyping." The EEOC adopted the new policy in late 2012 and considers expanding Title VII's sex discrimination provisions "a top commission enforcement priority."

"An employee should not be denied employment opportunities because he or she does not conform to the preferred or expected gender norms or roles of the employer or co-workers," said Malcolm S. Medley, director for the EEOC's Miami District Office. "Protections must be afforded to such employees."