The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights has conducted the first government-run test of employment discrimination against transgender people. The results confirm the rampant high rates of discrimination that transgender people have documented in their own lives.
The study was conducted by sending test-résumés to various employers across D.C. In each test, four different applications were submitted: two from qualified transgender candidates and two from lesser-qualified cisgender candidates. The trans applications included references to having worked under legal names of a different gender or doing work related to transgender advocacy to signify that they were trans.
In nearly half of the tests (48 percent), employers seemed to prefer a less-qualified candidate over one perceived to be transgender. In 33 percent of cases, employers specifically offered interviews to one or more of the less-qualified applicants perceived to be cisgender while not offering an interview to at least one of the more-qualified applicants perceived as transgender. These discrimination rates do not even account for other forms of discrimination, such as on the basis of race or age.
CREDIT: D.C. Office of Human Rights
All other possible factors were controlled for, including the candidates’ perceived race and age. They were each given Anglo-American names and were assigned addresses in the same diverse neighborhood in D.C. Each had graduated from local community colleges and universities within the same span of three years. The trans candidates all had one or two more years of work experience, .1 to .3 higher GPAs, and/or had attended one of the more highly ranked schools in the area.
As a result of the tests, enforcement action is being taken against five of the businesses for being in violation of the city’s gender identity nondiscrimination protections.
In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 47 percent of respondents reported that they had experience an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion. With double the rates of unemployment compared to the national average, many trans people turn to underground economies, a concern the D.C. study noted.
What’s perhaps most compelling about the study is the observation that the city does not receive discrimination complaints at rates that compare to what the test demonstrated. This is likely in part because transgender individuals are not aware of the protections they have under D.C. law or distrust the government to assist them. But it’s also likely that individuals don’t always know that they are experiencing discrimination when their job applications receive no response.
“While multiple factors contribute to so few cases being filed – including distrust of government
and unfamiliarity with enforcement processes – perhaps the most significant is an inability to
clearly identify discrimination when an applicant is denied an interview or job offer,” the study concludes.
Not only does the report thus call for more testing, it also emphasizes the importance of informing the general public and policy makers “of the magnitude of discrimination against the protected class” and encouraging “employers to take proactive steps to eliminate discrimination from their hiring practices.”