A federal court in Kentucky is allowing a transgender workplace discrimination suit to proceed, recognizing that mistreatment in regards to gender identity constitutes illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.
Plaintiff Mykel Mickens sued General Electric Appliances (GE) for harassment and disparate treatment in the workplace. He was not permitted to use the men’s restroom, so he had to use a facility much farther away from his work station, and he was then disciplined for how long his breaks were to accommodate that journey. Mickens also had a conflict with an employee, but though GE addressed a complaint one of his white, female colleagues had with that employee, his complaint went unaddressed. He says that when he disclosed that he was transgender to his supervisor, he was singled out and reprimanded for conduct no one else was reprimanded for, and when he reported the harassment, GE said there was nothing it could do.
Federal Chief Judge Joseph McKinley, a Clinton appointee, concluded that there was significant evidence to bring a discrimination case for race and gender discrimination. He agreed there is precedent that punishing an employee for failing to conform to gender stereotypes can qualify as gender discrimination under Title VII. “Significantly,” he wrote, “Plaintiff alleges that GE both permitted continued discrimination and harassment against him and subsequently fired him because he did not conform to the gender stereotype of what someone who was born female [sic] should look and act like.”
McKinley noted that several court cases, including G.G. v. Glouchester County School Board — currently before the Supreme Court — could impact future trans discrimination suits. In the meantime, however, “what is clear is that the Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges facts to support discrimination or disparate treatment claims based upon race and gender non-conformity or sex stereotyping.”
GE did not comment directly on the suit but reaffirmed in a statement its commitment to “creating, managing and valuing diversity in our workforce” and “ensuring that our workplace is free from harassment.”
McKinley’s ruling isn’t an automatic victory for Mickens, but it is a sign of progress for those seeking the justice system’s protection for discrimination against transgender people.
Just last week, a transgender man in Louisiana won his discrimination complaint against his employer through arbitration. Tristan Broussard involuntarily resigned from the financial services company he worked for when he was intolerably forced to “act and dress only as a female.” He was awarded more than a year’s salary as well as additional damages for emotional distress.
The Obama administration has extended protections to transgender people in various ways, including advocating for their civil rights in employment discrimination cases. Many advocates worry the Trump administration will roll back these protections and abandon support for these plaintiffs, if not take an antagonistic position against their discrimination claims.
A recent massive survey of transgender people found that 16 percent had lost a job due to being transgender, and 27 percent had either been fired, denied a promotion, or not been hired due to being transgender.