Press Room

May 31, 2004


HRC Lauds Federal Court Ruling Asserting Protection for Transsexual Employees Under Existing Law

'This is a historic day for our community, especially transsexual employees who are judged all too often not for the job they do
but because of someone else's prejudice,' said HRC President Cheryl Jacques.

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign applauded today's historic federal court ruling asserting that that transsexual employees are protected against workplace discrimination under existing law. In Smith v. City of Salem, Ohio, et al, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee - ruled that Title VII protects transsexuals and that the sex-stereotyping doctrine covers people who change their sex, marking the first such ruling by a federal appeals court.

"This is a historic day for our community, especially transsexual employees who are judged all too often not for the job they do but because of someone else's prejudice," said HRC President Cheryl Jacques. "The plaintiff and attorney are to be commended for their efforts in bringing forth such a historic case."

The plaintiff, Jimmie Smith - a pre-operative, pre-transitional transsexual - was working as a firefighter in Salem, Ohio, when Smith began to transition from male to female. After Smith informed supervisors of the transition, Smith's supervisors met with city officials to devise a plan to terminate Smith's employment. Salem's safety director called the plaintiff after the meeting. According to the Court, the safety director called the "Defendants' scheme a 'witch hunt.'" Following the meeting, the city unfairly disciplined Smith and attempted to either force Smith out or terminate employment. The lower court threw out the plaintiff's claims under Title VII and another civil rights statute. But the 6th Circuit ruled today that the trial court erred.

In a conversation with HRC, Randi Barnabee - who argued the case on Smith's behalf - applauded the historic ruling.

"In the 6th Circuit, it is no longer permissible for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of stereotypes about gender nonconformity - even when the sole basis of nonconformity is the mere admission by a person of self-identification as a transsexual," said Barnabee. "They can no longer get away with sex discrimination against a gender-non-conforming person simply because that person can be labeled transgender or transsexual."

"This type of victory under Title VII is long overdue, because it is so clear that the sex stereotyping of transgender people is blatant sex discrimination," says Shannon Minter, a board member of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. "This decision represents basic fairness."

Historically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has not been interpreted to cover transgender people. However, most of those cases were decided before 1989's Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins - the first Supreme Court case to conclude that Title VII prohibited sex stereotyping.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.