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Posts Tagged ‘sex discrimination’

Here’s my report on today’s Arizona State Bar Board of Governor’s meeting:

It’s a long story, but there has been controversy surrounding the ethical rule governing Arizona attorneys that prohibits bias or prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc. in the practice of law for several years now. (ER 8.4(d) and Comment 3.) As a member of the State Bar’s Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), we have been pushing to, among other things, expand the rule to add “gender expression” to the already existing categories of  “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a prohibited basis for discrimination. As anyone familiar with Arizona politics will understand, the more conservative elements of the Bar have opposed this move. In fact, their most recent move was to file a petition to completely gut the rule by, among other things, removing all listed grounds of discrimination.

To counter that proposal and, hopefully, put this controversy to rest once and for all, Ameilia Cramer, the current President of the State Bar (and an out lesbian), appointed a task force representing all sides of the controversy to develop a recommendation to the Board on what should be done with this rule. The Task Force, by consensus, determined that the rule should be strengthened by clarifying what practices are prohibited, expanding the rule so it applies to attorneys’ work outside the courtroom, and by adding “gender expression.” That proposal was unanimously approved by the Bar’s Rules Committee, which reviews all proposals for changes to Arizona court rules, and recommended for adoption by the Board of Governors. (Adoption by the Board would result in the Bar filing a petition to the State Supreme Court to adopt the proposed rule; that court has the final say.)

Today was the Board’s first opportunity to review the proposed rule amendment. I, another trans woman attorney who was a member of the Task Force and a member of SOGI, and the chair of the SOGI committee (a gay man) appeared on behalf of the committee in support of the proposal. My role was to explain the concept of gender expression, since virtually no one on the Board has had any experience with trans people, let alone that unfamiliar phrase. In the short time I had, I provided a couple of examples from my own life of gender expression and how it has affected my perception and treatment by others. In addition, in response to a question from a member of the Board, I explained the differences between gender identity and gender expression and why including both is important.

Unfortunately, given the strong opposition by right-wing groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom (fka the Alliance Defense Fund), which is based in Arizona, it appears likely that the Board will adopt the Task Force’s proposal but without “gender expression.” The Board won’t actually vote on the Task Force’s proposal until the next meeting on December 14. Amelia Cramer asked that I return for that meeting, so I will be definitely be there.

Although the inclusion of “gender expression” in the rule would serve an important educational function by informing attorneys that that type of discrimination is prohibited, omitting that phrase should not have any substantive effect on the scope of the rule, since discrimination based on gender expression, or failure to conform to gender stereotypes, is already prohibited as a type of sex discrimination under the line of cases culminating last April in the EEOC’s decision that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination because someone is transgender (Macey v. Holder). In addition, I was assured by State Bar Counsel, who is responsible for filing disciplinary proceedings against attorneys who violate the rules of ethics, that the current rule is already interpreted to prohibit gender expression discrimination. Consequently, I, personally, do not oppose omission of the phrase “gender expression” from the amended rule. At the same time, I will strongly support efforts to insert that phrase into the rule in the next 1 or 2 years, after further education of Arizona attorneys on this issue, as discussed by Board during today’s meeting.

So, stay tuned and I’ll let you know what happens on December 14.

By the way, if the Task Force’s proposal was adopted in its original form, Arizona would become the first state to specifically include that phrase in the ethical rules governing attorneys, a remarkable feat if it comes to pass, given that, in recent years, the “firsts” Arizona has been known for have been on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.

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I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.

I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.

Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.

(more…)

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Attorney and law professor Jillian Weiss has posted another interesting article over on Bilerico.  This one concerns the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which held that laws making sex between consenting adults of the same sex a crime (aka “sodomy” laws) are unconstitutional, and whether and how that decision can be used to, in her words, “loosen the chokehold that the law has on transgender people.”  One of the commenters there asked if she could write another article on the definition of “sex” in Title VII and EEO policies banning “sex” discrimination, as applied to trans people.  Rather than wait for Dr. Weiss’ response, I decided to weigh in on this topic.  Here is my response:

E.T., I’ll take a stab at responding to your second question regarding the definition of “sex.”

It’s important to distinguish 2 different situations in which the legal definition of the word “sex” impacts trans people: first, laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc.; and second, the right of trans people to access legal privileges, e.g., marriage (in most states), that are restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. The second group could also encompass the right of trans people to use services or facilities, e.g., public restrooms, access to which is restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. (I say “could encompass” since, in most places, contrary to public opinion, there are no laws that say a man can’t use a women’s restroom, or vice versa. In other words, sex segregation of restrooms is largely a matter of social convention, not law, although trespassing and disturbing the peace laws are sometimes used (unjustly, in my opinion) to enforce those conventions.)

Where access to a legal privilege, service or facility is restricted based on sex, determining a trans person’s right of access requires a determination of what “sex” the person is, since sex-based segregation is based on a strict binary division between male or female, where no ambiguity is allowed. Answering that question, in turn, raises myriad complicated questions regarding how a person’s sex is determined. For example, is it strictly biological or chromosomal, or does it include a person’s gender identity or expression? If biological, do we look only at the configuration of the person’s genitals or genes at birth, or do we, also or instead, give effect to the person’s genital configuration after surgery? Can a person’s sex be legally changed? And what do we do about intersex people whose chromosomes, genitalia, internal organs, etc. are not clearly male or female?

Most, but not all, of the cases addressing this question in the context of the right of a trans person to marry have ignored the effects of surgery and attempts to “legally” change the person’s sex by amending her/his birth certificate. In other words, they were decided based on the basic premise espoused by many of our opponents that “once a man, always a man,” and vice versa.

Fortunately, most, but not all, of the recent cases involving the definition of “sex” for purposes of determining a trans person’s right to protection under laws banning sex discrimination have avoided this difficulty. They do so by saying that it doesn’t matter what sex a person is, i.e., whether the person is male, female, both or neither. Instead, what matters is whether the person was treated differently because of some sex-related characteristic. This trend started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1988. In that case, the court said that discrimination based on sex under Title VII, the federal law banning sex, race and other types of discrimination in employment, includes being treated differently because the person doesn’t conform to sex-based stereotypes regarding dress, mannerisms, etc. Thus, the Supreme Court held that it was illegal for Price Waterhouse to refuse to make Ann Hopkins a partner basically because she was too “butch.” (The court, of course, didn’t use that term and there is no indication that I know of that Ms. Hopkins was lesbian.)

This trend, IMO, reached its logical endpoint with last fall’s federal trial court decision in Diane Schroer’s Title VII sex discrimination suit against the Library of Congress. Schroer v. Billington. In that case, the court found that the Library violated Title VII by discriminating against Schroer because she was changing her sex, not because she was male, female, both or neither.

Thus, in the context of discrimination laws or policies that you were talking about, it isn’t necessary to define a person’s sex as male or female, etc. It is only necessary to tackle that question when the trans person is seeking access to a legal privilege like marriage, or a service or facility, like a restroom, where access is restricted based on whether the person is male or female. The lack of a coherent and consistent definition of a person’s sex and/or methods for legally changing one’s sex that are actually recognized by the courts are the source of most, if not, all, of the ongoing confusion regarding the rights of trans people.

In the case of marriage, I think the best solution to that confusion is to remove all sex or gender based restrictions, in other words, to legalize same sex marriage. That’s why the battle for marriage equality is important to the trans community, contrary to the opinions of some. With respect to access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities, I think the best solution is to provide for personal privacy, e.g., the stalls in women’s restrooms, and allow access based on the person’s gender expression. In other words, if you’re presenting as a woman, you use a women’s restroom, and vice versa, regardless of your physical sex. Any other solution quickly becomes too complex and confusing to administer and enforce. Implementing that solution will, however, require the American public to just “get over” their hang-ups about the sex or gender of the person in the stall next to them.

UPDATE

Some of you may also be interested in this post from last year on how laws that ban sex discrimination in access to public accommodations relate to the right of trans people to public restrooms.

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Jillian Weiss, an attorney and law professor who writes an excellent blog on transgender workplace issues recently posted an excellent article on The Bilerico Project with her thoughts on last week’s decision by the federal district court in Washington, D.C. in Diane Schroer’s sex discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress.  In a landmark decision, Judge James Robertson held that the Library violated the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment (contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) when it withdrew its previous offer to hire David Schroer, an anti-terrorism expert and  former Special Forces officer, as a terrorism analyst when they learned that she intended to complete her transition and begin work as Diane.  Among the arguments that the Library made in its defense was the claim that the exclusion of gender identity and expression protections from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House of Representatives last year proved that Congress never intended the ban on sex discrimination to protect against discrimination based on gender identity.  Fortunately for all of us, the court rejected that argument.  However, the argument that Judge Robertson used to reject that claim is weak and, as Zoe Brain pointed out in her comment on the same article, not very convincing.  There are, however, much better reasons to reject the Library’s claim, which I put into my comment on Dr. Weiss’ article:

I’m an attorney and my practice is limited to appellate work only (criminal appeals in my case, but the rules for interpreting statues are the same whether you’re talking about civil or criminal law). The argument that the exclusion of gender identity and expression from ENDA last year indicates Congress’ understanding, and intention, that sex discrimination under Title VII doesn’t cover gender identity discrimination is an obvious one. In the end, however, it’s completely bogus.

Ask yourself, how is the belief or understanding of a completely different Congress almost 45 years after Title VII was enacted relevant to what Congress intended sex discrimination to include back in 1964? It’s not the job of Congress to decide what laws they’ve already passed mean. That’s the job of the courts.

Two other important factors further undercut this argument. First, if you review the congressional record from 1964, you will see that sex discrimination was added to Title VII with the explicit intent to defeat it by convincing the majority of Congress that it was too radical to vote for. So, there’s no evidence in the record that Congress intended sex discrimination to mean anything, let alone evidence as to whether they intended “sex” to apply only to biology or to include gender identity.

Second, what happened last year was simply that a single committee of the House of Representatives sent a bill to the floor of the House that didn’t inlcude gender identity and that the House passed that bill. It was never passed by the Senate or signed into law. Consequently, while it may be proper to say that the House Labor Committee didn’t think that gender identity discrimination should be illegal, there is no evidence that the full House or the Senate agreed, since they were never given the opportunity to vote on that question. Divining legislative intent from Congress’ *failure* to do something without any explicit up or down vote on the issue is a perilous business.

Finally, I’m no conservative by any measure, but I agree with Justice Scalia that the first place we have to look in determining what Congress intended is what they actually said. It frustrates me to no end when the courts here in Arizona agree with prosecutors that, despite the explicit language in a statute, the legislative history shows that they meant something entirely different. At some point, what the legislature or Congress actually said has to mean something.

This is not an argument that, if Congress didn’t think about the problem in 1964, Title VII shouldn’t apply to it. As one person involved with the Schroer case (it may have been Sharon McGowan, the ACLU’s lead attorney) recently said to a reporter when asked if Congress intended Title VII to apply to trans women and men, the framers of the Constitution weren’t thinking about TV either when they talked about freedom of the press in the First Amendment; does that mean it shouldn’t have the same protections as newspapers?

Change is a natural process that preexisting laws must continually adapt to. It is the difficult but absolutely necessary job of courts to determine how those laws should be applied to situations that the people who adopted them never contemplated. That doesn’t make the process illegitimate; it just makes it very, very hard.

(Crossposted on TranscendGender.)

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Over on TranscendGender, Amber posted a blog about her transition at work and the dilemma of how to deal with the private businesses she visits as part of her job.  In particular, she wondered how to deal with the question of which bathroom to use at places where she is known from before her transition.  As we all know, bathroom access is one of the most sensitive issues these days in the battle for equal treatment for all transgender people, and one which our opponents are exploiting by saying that prohibiting discrimination against trans people in allowing access to public accommodations means the the dreaded, and clearly perverted, “man in a dress” will use these laws as an excuse to go into women’s restrooms and abuse every woman who enters, especially little girls.  (The truth, of course, is that there is nothing to prevent that from happening right now, so these laws change nothing in that regard.)  In her comment to Amber’s blog, Renee pointed out that private businesses are private property and that the owner can exclude anyone they wish by invoking laws against trespassing.  Her comment, however, didn’t factor in the effect of public accommodations laws.  So, I responded with the following:

While what Renee said about private businesses is basically true, they do not, in fact, have unlimited discretion to exclude people.  Virtually every state has a law that prohibits sex, race and other discrimination in public accommodations.  Thus, businesses like theaters, shopping malls, retail stores, hotels, and restaurants that offer their goods and/or services to the public are subject to these restrictions even on their private property.  Moreover, both state and federal courts have held that discrimination because a person doesn’t fit gender stereotypes, such as a butch lesbian or a fem gay man or even a trans woman or man, is illegal sex discrimination.  Here in Arizona, a friend of mine filed a civil rights complaint with the state Attorney General’s office against a night club for banning her and all other trans women because some women were complaining about their use of the women’s restroom.  The AG accepted and investigated the complaint as a valid allegation of sex discrimination; in other words, they accepted this interpretation of Arizona’s law.  Eventually, the complaint was settled by agreement (the nightclub owner dropped the ban and put a gender neutral sign on a preexisting single stall bathroom), so there is no administrative or judicial ruling affirming that this was, in fact, illegal sex discrimination under Arizona law.  Nonetheless, this remains a valid basis for asserting our rights if a private business that qualifies as a “public accommodation” treats us differently because we aren’t as masculine or as feminine as they think we should be.

The ban on sex discrimination in access to public accomodations applies to restrooms, just as it does to every other part of a business open to the public.  Many people believe that there are laws stating that only men can use the men’s room  and vice versa.  In fact, as far as I know, no state has such a law, although some cities may.  Absent such a law, which may be subject to constitutional challenge, the business cannot discriminate against anyone in allowing access to restrooms based on their sex; in other words, women can legally use the men’s room and vice versa.

When Amber goes to one of these businesses as a contractor, instead of a customer, her status is different and the public accommodations protections may not apply to her on that visit.  If, however, she comes back as a customer, e.g., to see a movie, they cannot discriminate against her because she is trans under this theory.

A final caveat:  Although many courts have accepted this interpretation of sex discrimination statutes, others have not and instead have held that it does not violate such laws to exclude someone because she or he is trans.  Most of those cases predate a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228) holding that discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment.  The current, although still somewhat uncertain, trend in the case law is to accept and apply this theory to discrimination against trans women and men.  Of course, the adoption of local, state and federal laws explicitly banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression eliminates the need to rely on this theory and makes our protections much more secure.

In other words, although our protection against discrimination under existing law is uncertain, we are not wholly without remedy when we are unfairly treated because of who we are.

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