Transgender Employment Discrimination

25 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2007 Last revised: 25 May 2009

See all articles by Katie Koch

Katie Koch

Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Richard A. Bales

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law; University of Akron School of Law


Legal protection for transgender employees, where it exists at all, varies widely. A single federal circuit interprets Title VII as protecting transgender employees, but only when the employee is able to prove workplace stereotyping. Some state and local governments offer varying degrees of protection to transgender employees, but these statutes and ordinances are inconsistent, and often inappropriately attempt to graft transgender protection onto statutes and ordinances forbidding sexual orientation discrimination. One state protects transgender employees via its disability statute, but the federal disability statute explicitly excludes transgender employees, and in any event many transgender employees do not have (or want) a formal diagnosis of disability.

This article argues that the definition of "sex" in federal, state, and local antidiscrimination laws should be expanded to include transgender. This approach is consistent with the sex-stereotyping theory of discrimination announced by the Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. If a woman is discriminated against because she does not adhere to social stereotypes about what it means "to be a woman," then a transgender individual is discriminated against when he or she does not adhere to the social stereotypes about what it means to be a member of her or his biological sex.

The proposed approach has four advantages. First, it would create consistency among the federal, state, and local governments concerning the meaning of "sex" and the protection extended to transgender employees. Second, it would extend coverage to the entire transgender community rather than the piecemeal protection currently in effect. Third, it would provide protection to transgender employees immediately. Fourth, courts would easily be able to fit transgender discrimination into an existing legal framework.

Keywords: transgender, sexual, orientation, employment, discrimination, sex, gender, stereotype

Suggested Citation

Koch, Katie and Bales, Richard A., Transgender Employment Discrimination. UCLA Women's Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Katie Koch

Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law ( email )

Nunn Hall
Highland Heights, KY 41099
United States

Richard A. Bales (Contact Author)

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law ( email )

525 South Main Street
Ada, OH 45810
United States
419-772-2205 (Phone)


University of Akron School of Law

150 University Ave
Akron, OH 44325
United States

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