The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made history recently by filing its first lawsuits alleging sex discrimination against transgender individuals.
The EEOC says Michigan-based RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. and Florida-based Lakeland Eye Clinic discriminated against two transgender workers when they fired them for not conforming to “the employer’s gender-based expectations,” according to statements from the EEOC. Both complaints were brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on a gender-stereotyping theory.
Although the suits are the first of their kind to be filed by the EEOC, transgender individuals have been filing suits under state discrimination laws for several years. Earlier this year President Obama made it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate based on gender identity; however, the EEOC’s position that transgender individuals are protected by Title VII’s gender discrimination provisions is not clear on the face of Title VII and, until now, has not been tested in court.
White House officials announced this week that President Obama intends to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many states and local governments already have laws, applicable to all employers, banning this type of discrimination. Last year, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would have prohibited this type of discrimination against all workers in the United States, but the bill stalled in the House.
Obama’s executive order would protect up to sixteen million employees working for employers with federal contracts. In the meantime, federal contractor employers may wish to consider reviewing their non-discrimination and non-retaliation policies to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are explicitly covered.
$10.10 Minimum Wage for Employees of Federal Contractors
Seeking to fulfill President Obama’s executive order (issued in February), the Labor Department proposed a rule this week to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
The wage increase would benefit about 200,000 workers, an estimate that was not available when the executive order was announced. If enacted, the rate would apply to contracts issued on or after Jan. 1, 2015. The DOL is expected to issue the final rule on October 1, 2014.
By a vote of 64-32, the Senate voted on November 7, 2013 to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would prohibit employers, employment agencies, and labor unions from using an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions. The scope of the protections provided and procedures for enforcement are nearly identical to those under Title VII. Interestingly, however, the legislation specifically provides that claims based on a disparate impact theory will not be permitted. Although passage by the Senate takes the legislation one step closer to becoming law, its prospects in the House appear dim. Speaker of the House Boehner has indicated that he does not intend to allow the legislation to come up for a vote. Employers in Illinois should note that the Illinois Human Rights Act already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the Chicago Human Relations Ordinance and Cook County Human Rights Ordinance prohibit discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.