July 22, 2014

EEOC Rules That Transgender Employees are Covered Under Title VII

On April 20, 2012, in the case of Macy v. Holder, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that transgender individuals are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The EEOC’s ruling arose out of a complaint of discrimination filed by Mia Macy.  Macy was a police detective, who was denied a position by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  Macy claims that she was denied the position because she informed the contractor for the position that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female.  Macy filed a formal EEOC complaint of discrimination with the ATF in which she alleged that she was not hired based on sex and gender identity stereotyping.  The ATF informed Macy that it would only process her claim “based on sex (female)” under Title VII, and Macy’s claim based on “gender identity stereotyping” would be handled under its “policy and practice.”  Macy appealed the ATF’s decision to the EEOC that, because the ATF is a federal agency, acts more as an appellate body than a primary investigatory agency, which is different from the EEOC’s role with respect to complaints against private employers.

In making its determination, the EEOC analyzed a number of federal cases that have recognized that claims of discrimination based on gender identity stereotyping are covered under Title VII.  In its opinion, the EEOC ruled:

Thus, we conclude that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination “based on ... sex”, and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII.

In regard to the impact of this decision, the ruling in Macy will be followed by the EEOC in its investigations of these types of complaints by job applicants and employees against employers for discrimination based on a person’s transgender status.  The ruling will not be binding, however, in state and federal courts but is expected to have influence on how courts will view and decide cases or appeals involving complaints against private sector employers.  In addition, EEOC offices throughout the United States will now be accepting and investigating Title VII claims against private sector employers alleging discrimination based on transgender status, though it should be noted that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court that decides appeals from federal courts in North Carolina, has not ruled yet on the issue of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on transgender status.  Employers should consult employment counsel for guidance on adverse employment actions involving a transgender job applicant or employee.

© 2014 Poyner Spruill LLP. All rights reserved.

About the Author


Steve represents employers in a wide variety of employment matters in state and federal court and before the North Carolina Industrial Commission, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, North Carolina Employment Security Commission, State of North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, United States Department of Labor, and the North Carolina Department of Labor. In addition, Steve represents business, insurance and housing authority clients in a wide range of matters in state and federal court. Steve regularly advises clients on employment issues and matters and is a...

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About the Author

David L. Woodard, Employment Litigation Attorney, Poyner Spruill, Law firm

David practices in the area of employment litigation.  He regularly advises and defends clients in race, age, disability and sex discrimination and harassment cases; reviews handbooks and termination issues; and provides compliance advice on matters of employment law.

Representative Experience

McNeil v. Scotland County - Obtained summary judgment for employer where plaintiff alleged race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Successfully...


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