Gender nonconformity can be a career ender. Is it protected?

On Behalf of | Aug 12, 2019 | Sexual Orientation Discrimination

A lot of people prize jobs in the technology industry because, often enough, doing the work well is all that is required to succeed. It’s not supposed to matter what you look like, what your outside interests are — only your abilities and dedication are what matters. But is that true for transgender and non-gender-conforming individuals?

NPR recently profiled several people in this category who have worked for Dell. The company has won repeated rankings as among the 50 best tech companies for diversity. That’s important, because tech doesn’t actually have strong diversity numbers as a whole. For example, at Facebook, less than 25% of the technology roles are held by women, and African-Americans account for only 1%, according to NPR.

NPR spoke to a number of current and former Dell employees who say that the company is extremely supportive of transgender and non-gender-conforming employees. But it found several who had filed lawsuits claiming discrimination.

Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender nonconformity are not specifically mentioned in Title Vii of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. However, both laws prohibit workplace discrimination “because of sex.” Does “because of sex” include people who don’t meet traditional gender standards?

The EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission say yes. They cite numerous court cases holding that Title VII, and laws modeled after it, do protect the LGBT community. However, the Department of Justice currently says that the law does not protect people who don’t match stereotypical understandings of gender roles. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases on the issue next year.

At Dell, one female systems engineer was let go right in the middle of her transition. She was told that her transition was interfering with her ability to travel. Before she decided to transition, a trans colleague told her, “Don’t tell these people that you’re transgender. It’s a career ender.”

Another systems engineer who complained of her treatment at Dell identifies as a woman, but she tends to dress in masculine clothing and has taken hormones to appear more masculine. After coming to Dell when her previous company was purchased by Dell, she says that she was kept in transitional training for three years while her co-workers were allowed to move up the ladder. She claims that Dell wouldn’t put her in front of customers due to her appearance. Her complaint was resolved amicably.

Unfortunately, LGBTQI discrimination occurs far too often in the workplace. If you believe your status is being used against you at work, discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.