(Image: Courtesy Tomi Finkle, Baltimore Sun / November 6, 2011)

Tomi Finkle, a transgender woman and retired U.S. Capitol Police officer, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Howard County, Maryland after the county police force denied her a job. Her complaint alleged that she was extremely qualified for the position, but the police force did not give her the job because of her “obviously transgender[]” appearance. She brought her case under Title VII, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, because there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. The county moved to dismiss her case because it argued that transgender employees are not protected by Title VII.

Transgender Law Center learned about this case and gathered a group of national and Maryland organizations to join in an amicus brief to the court. Those organizations included the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union Of Maryland, Free State Legal Project, Inc., Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The brief was drafted and filed with the pro bono assistance of lawyers at Lewis, Feinberg, Renaker, Lee, and Jackson, P.C., of Oakland, CA, and Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, of Baltimore, MD. The amicus brief described the nearly unanimous conclusions of federal courts in the last 15 years, including the EEOC’s decision in Transgender Law Center’s case Macy v. Holder, holding that Title VII protects transgender employees from discrimination. Those decisions have followed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Cooper, in which the Supreme Court held that discrimination against an employee for failing to conform to gender stereotypes is a form of unlawful sex discrimination.

On April 10, 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued a decision denying the county’s motion to dismiss the case. The court held that Title VII does protect transgender employees: “[I]t would seem that any discrimination against transsexuals (as transsexuals)— individuals who, by definition, do not conform to gender stereotypes—is proscribed by Title VII’s proscription of discrimination on the basis of sex as interpreted by Price Waterhouse. . . . Therefore, on the basis of the Supreme Court’s holding in Price Waterhouse, . . . this Court finds that Plaintiff’s claim that she was discriminated against “because of her obvious transgendered status” is a cognizable claim of sex discrimination under Title VII.” (pp. 12-13.)

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