'Laughed out of interviews': Trans workers discuss job discrimination

Aveda Adara, a 41-year-old transgender woman, said the mistreatment she faced due to her gender identity led her to quit her job at a major health care company just outside Houston, Texas.

“I was constantly misgendered by managers, supervisors and employees,” Adara told NBC News. “My own manager would routinely discriminate against me, and nit pick and micromanage me.”

After she left that full-time role, Adara said she became depressed, found herself with no health insurance and was forced to cash out her 401(k) retirement account to have enough money to get by. Eventually, she found two part-time jobs to make ends meet, but these positions do not provide any benefits.

Employment discrimination, however, is nothing new to Adara. “I’ve been laughed out of interviews for so many years,” she said.

“I live in Texas, and there are no laws in Texas that protect people like me,” she added. “I can be fired for being who I am.”

While 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly banning workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, federal civil rights law is less clear. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on … sex,” but whether “sex” discrimination in this context is inclusive of anti-LGBTQ discrimination is at the center of three cases before the Supreme Court.

The high court will hear oral arguments in these cases on Tuesday, and its decision — expected in the spring or summer of 2020 — could have a dramatic impact on LGBTQ workers’ rights. One case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, marks the first time a transgender civil rights case has come before the Supreme Court.

Trans workers across the country, including Aveda Adara, will be watching the case closely. Adara said she plans to leave her home state, which is not among the 20 states that explicitly ban LGBTQ workplace discrimination, if the Supreme Court rules against the transgender employee at the center of the case.

“I think I would feel safer in a state that would protect me,” she explained.

Aimee Stephens’ story

Currently before the Supreme Court are three cases regarding LGBTQ workplace discrimination — two, which have been combined, involve alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation, and one involves gender identity. Aimee Stephens is at the center of the latter.

Stephens was fired from a Detroit funeral home in 2013, shortly after she informed her employer, for whom she had worked for six years, that she was beginning her gender transition and intended to live and work as a woman. According to court documents, her boss told her “this is not going to work out” and terminated her employment. The decision to sue and forego a severance package, which would have required her to keep quiet about the circumstances surrounding her termination, was not an easy one.

“That’s not something that I thought I could do and live with,” Stephens said. “I couldn’t stay silent; I had to say something.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Aimee Stephens’ case over whether a federal civil rights law that bars job discrimination on the basis of sex protects transgender people.Paul Sancya / AP file

After a trial judge ruled against her, Stephens won a landmark victory for transgender rights in March 2018 when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination covers transgender workers.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the 6th Circuit’s decision. “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”

The funeral home appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and the high court announced earlier this year that it would take up Stephens’ case, along with two others involving sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

‘Every interview was awkward’

The workplace experience of Stephens is “very familiar to many transgender people,” according to Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

According to the center’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one in six trans people said they lost a job because of their gender identity or expression, and nearly a third (30 percent) of those who had held a job in the year prior to the survey reported being fired, denied a promotion or subjected to harassment or attack due to their gender identity or expression. Over three quarters of respondents said they had taken steps to avoid such mistreatment at work, like delaying their gender transition or simply quitting their job.

Workplace discrimination has a ripple effect, Branstetter stressed, noting that it “contributes to a crisis of homelessness, poverty and violence faced by too many in our community.” Almost one third of respondents to the 2015 survey reported living in poverty, compared to 14 percent of the general U.S. population. This differential is due, in part, to higher rates of unemployment: At the time of the survey, the unemployment rate was 15 percent among trans Americans, compared to a national average of 5 percent.

source: nbcnews.com