Case Brought By Transgender Law Center Illustrates Need for Strengthened Non-Discrimination Policies And Transgender Sensitivity Trainings Throughout Country
In July 2010, Ashley Yang was fired from her job as an officer for the Transportation Security Administration for being a woman. Her termination followed two years of harassment, discrimination, and managers forcing her to pretend to be a man to keep her job. On the anniversary of her termination, Ms. Yang and the Transgender Law Center completed a settlement against the TSA, representing a major step forward for the treatment of transgender people in the workplace.
The Transgender Law Center is now calling for the TSA to update their policies and practices to ensure that TSA workers throughout the United States are treated with dignity.
“No one should have to choose between their gender and their job,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Every employee has a right to expect the opportunity to work hard, to provide for themselves and their families, and to do this in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Ashley was fired simply for being who she is. In this economy where jobs are scarce, this isn’t only unfair and unkind, it is cruel.”
A month after hiring Ashley Yang, TSA managers informed her that she would be required to start working as a male and that failure to do so could result in disciplinary actions. They required this of Ms. Yang, despite the fact that she informed TSA that she is a transgender woman and after they hired her as a woman.
To keep her job Ms. Yang bought a short “male wig” to hide her long hair, complied with TSA’s male dress code, and pretended to be a man at work. Despite her efforts, passengers continued to recognize her as a woman and subjected to her to sexual harassment. Ms. Yang was fired almost two years after being hired and just five days before the end of the standard TSA probationary period.
The Transgender Law Center (TLC) took on Ms. Yang’s case. The TLC argued that the TSA had engaged in discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The TSA found the legal arguments persuasive enough to agree to a settlement with TLC and Ms. Yang. The settlement agreement included a financial payment to Ms. Yang and transgender sensitivity training for TSA managers at the Los Angeles International Airport.
“TSA will be a better agency by taking steps to make sure this never happens again,” said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. “Unfortunately, what happened to Ashley is not an uncommon experience for transgender employees. We are advocating for the TSA to expand their employee trainings across the country and to change their policies in regard to transgender employees.”
“Working for the TSA was my way of contributing to society,” says Yang. “I valued talking with passengers and was inspired by helping to protect people and making sure they are safe.”
As Ms. Yang worked at the checkpoint pretending to be male, she was subject to lewd comments from male passengers who recognized her as a woman. For example, one passenger said “a little lower there, darling” while she patted him down. Other comments include “I reaaaally enjoyed that pat-down,” “pat down much lower on my back,” and “I haven’t gotten this much attention from a girl in a while.”
Ms. Yang was fired from her job on July 1, 2010, just five days before the end of her trial period. She was not fired for job performance. She was fired by TSA for being who she is and not being able to pass as a man. She was fired despite only missing two days of work in two years, enduring harassment, and attempting to comply with degrading requests by the TSA to adopt a more “male look.”
The Transgender Law Center is at the heart of a movement of transgender people, our families and our allies who recognize that our struggles for equality and authentic self-expression are all connected and related. TLC fights tenaciously for the physical, emotional and financial wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming people through trailblazing projects that transcend traditional lines of service and advocacy. By working for and with transgender people and our allies to change laws, policies and attitudes, the Transgender Law Center makes it possible for all of us to be who we are and live safe and fulfilling lives. www.transgenderlawcenter.org