Lawsuit Alleges Gender Discrimination After Plaintiff Revealed Transgender Status

A former Ph.D. candidate at a San Francisco university is suing the school for gender discrimination, alleging that faculty and staff began to mistreat him once he revealed that he had undergone sex-reassignment surgery. The cause of action is a rare one, as only a handful of states, including New Jersey and California, allow claims for employment discrimination based on gender identity. New York state law currently does not allow such a claim, but New York City does. A lawsuit filed in New Jersey in 2011 was the first to test this state’s transgender discrimination law. Federal authorities allowed a claim to proceed in 2012.

Kellen Bennett was a candidate for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco. He says that he received good grades and good recommendations from August 2006, when he started the program, until October 2011, when he revealed his transgender status to a faculty member and several students. Bennett underwent sex-reassignment surgery thirteen years ago, and he has lived as a man ever since. He claims that his reviews suddenly all turned bad, and that a postdoctoral internship he had been promised was no longer available to him. At least one supervisor frequently used anti-transgender slurs in his presence. Bennett also alleges that someone altered his academic records in a way that affected his job search. He completed his degree, but was unable to continue in the program as he had planned. Bennett filed suit against the university for gender discrimination and retaliation last year.

A transgender man in New Jersey, El’Jai Devoureau, filed suit against a drug treatment center in 2011 for allegedly firing him from a job based on his gender. While Devoureau is a man according to his driver’s license and social security card, the treatment center reportedly considered him a woman in a job that required a man. The job in question involved monitoring men as they urinated into cups for drug tests. On his second day, his supervisor allegedly asked him if he was transgender, and when he refused to answer, fired him. While the preference of a man over a woman for that specific position might be legally allowed, the question presented by Devoureau’s lawsuit was whether or not the employer was obligated to treat him as a man.

New Jersey and eleven other states expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on transgender status. “Gender identity or expression” was added to New Jersey’s list of protected criteria in 2006.

New York state does not have such protections for transgender people, although a bill that would extend such protections has passed the state assembly five times. New York City prohibits “bias-related harassment” based on multiple factors including gender identity. A recent lawsuit in New York alleges that a school unlawfully fired a transgender teacher after saying his status made him “worse than gay.”

At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not expressly include gender identity as a protected group. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allowed a transgender woman to pursue a claim against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive in April 2012 for allegedly refusing to hire her because of her transgender status.

If you need to speak to a gender discrimination attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or (646) 867-7997.

Web Resources:

State by State Guide to Laws That Prohibit Discrimination Against Transgender People (PDF file), National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2010
More Blog Posts:

Firing Employee Due to Concerns of Employer’s Wife is Not Unlawful Gender Discrimination, According to Iowa Supreme Court, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 7, 2013
New Jersey Passes Law Against Gender Discrimination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 2, 2012
Sexual Harassment Costs New Jersey Millions – Many Offenders Remain on the Job, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 10, 2012

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