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The workplace is often a focus for discrimination against transgender individuals. Workplace discrimination remains at the forefront of emerging LGBTQ rights issues in California and across the country. An important aspect of these cases for transgender workers is the legal definition of sex versus gender identity.

Under federal law, only sexual discrimination is protected by statues such as Title VII. This relates to a person’s biological sex. It is considered separate from the gender the person may identify as or express. This can cause problems for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace when they file discrimination lawsuits against employers.

This was the problem faced by one transgender woman who worked in a funeral home. After coming out to her employers and stating that she intended to begin dressing as a woman, she was fired despite many years of positive performance reviews. When she attempted to sue the funeral home, the court sided with her employer stating that Title VII couldn’t protect her because it didn’t apply to transgender individuals. The transgender woman, working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, appealed the case.

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, their decision may have a dramatic impact on the future of LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases. It is likely to impact the definition of words like sex and gender identity in federal law. If these words become broadly defined to include gender-nonconforming people in their protections, then LGBTQ workers may be protected more equally.

Filing a workplace discrimination claim as a transgender person can be intimidating and difficult. The law has still not adequately caught up to the unique position transgender people are in, and employers often use religious freedom arguments to defend their decisions. A discrimination attorney may be able to help a person understand what legal protections do apply to them and the current state of the law.