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“The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Businesses Cannot Discriminate Against Transgender Employees

Businesses Cannot Discriminate Against Transgender Employees

Transgender bathroom rights have been in the spotlight this year. The nation’s schools have been grappling with the issue of which locker rooms should transgender students be allowed to use.  Businesses have also been drawn into the issue as they try to avoid gender discrimination in the workplace. Target stores recently made a public statement that it was allowing people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. While some businesses are following the Target lead on this issue, other businesses are hesitant to take a public stance.

The issue transcends bathrooms and locker rooms

The transgender rights issue does not end with bathroom and locker room usage.  Even though the federal law does not provide for protection against transgender people in public accommodations, many states and local communities have laws that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity. These rights may include the right to not be refused entry, participation, or services based on gender identity; the right to dress in a manner consistent with one’s gender identity and the right to be free from harassment because of one’s gender identity.

For example, the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/5-102) prohibits discrimination specifically on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations.  Under Illinois law, it is a civil rights violation for any public place of accommodation to deny or refuse to another the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services of any public place of accommodation, on the basis of gender identity. It is also a violation to publish or display communications that convey the idea that the place of public accommodation will be denied to any person or that any person is unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable because of gender identity.

Broad definitions make Illinois law applicable to many businesses

Business owners might believe they are not subject to the requirements of the state Human Rights Act should be aware that the legislature broadly defined “public accommodation” to include almost every establishment that provides goods and services to the general public. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • hotels/motels
  • restaurants and bars
  • theaters, auditoriums and concert halls
  • stadiums, museums and galleries
  • grocery stores
  • bakeries
  • malls and retail stores
  • laundromats and drycleaners
  • banks
  • beauty shops
  • public transportation
  • daycare centers and gyms
  • other places of entertainment.

While Illinois is the most-progressive state in protecting the rights of its transgender residents against workplace harassment and gender discrimination, many other states have similar types of laws for places of public accommodation.

Consult an attorney for more information about this issue

Businesses open to the public need to be aware of not only how they interact with their transgender employees, but also how they interact with the transgender community in general.  The best practice is to treat all customers and employees with the same courtesy and respect regardless of gender identity.  For more information about gender discrimination in the workplace and how it relates to protect your organization or business, contact Kristin Dvorsky Tauras at McKenna Storer.

Categories Employment Law

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