By now, most employers are familiar with the list of categories protected from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: race, color, religion, national origin and sex. Additional categories are protected by other federal anti-discrimination laws: disability (Americans with Disabilities Act), age (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), pregnancy (Pregnancy Discrimination Act), and genetic information (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act). Absent is any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The protections are, of course, broader in New York State. Under the New York Human Rights Law, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (among other things) is also prohibited. And in New York City, the New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Advocacy groups have been clamoring for legislation to protect transgender and lesbian/gay employees on the federal level for years. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would explicitly prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but ENDA (despite versions being introduced in almost every Congress since the 1990s) has never made it to the President’s desk.
Enter the EEOC. Apparently tired of waiting for legislative protection for transgender employees, the EEOC has taken matters into its own hands.