the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing federal law in the workplace, has determined that discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgender people amounts to illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and it is bringing or endorsing lawsuits under that provision.
That application of existing law is still being tested in court and is more established for transgender workers than for gay and lesbian workers. In the past two years, the agency has successfully pursued 223 cases involving gay or transgender people who faced workplace harassment or other discrimination, gaining settlements or court orders, said Chai R. Feldblum, one of the agency’s five commissioners.
Patricia Dawson of Pangburn, Ark., 46, hopes to join that list. Ms. Dawson, who grew up as Steven, had more than 15 years’ experience as an industrial electrician and had been a rising employee at H & H Electric, an industrial contractor, for four years when she informed her boss in 2012 that she was transitioning to female and had changed her name.
The boss, she said in a Title VII-based lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, told her to keep her plans secret and not to “rock the boat” with clients.
When her identity became obvious and gossip raged at the work site, she said, the boss said to her, “I’m sorry, Steve, you do great work, but you are too much of a distraction, and I am going to have to let you go.”
Ms. Dawson said she was devastated by her treatment. “I love what I do; I get the greatest joy out of fixing things,” she said in an interview. “Treating us as second-class citizens, it’s hurtful.”