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Gender Identity Discrimination and Harassment

Regrettably, discrimination and harassment against transgender people is very common. The Maine Employee Rights Group stands ready to do everything within the bounds of the law to fight discrimination against transgender workers. (As discussed on this page of our website, the Maine Employee Rights Group also represents people who suffer from sexual orientation discrimination.)

Gender Identity Discrimination Can Take Many Forms

“Gender identity” is a person’s internal sense of being female, male, a blend of both, or neither. A transgender person’s gender identity and/or “gender expression” (how one expresses their gender through appearance or behavior) differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. A person with a female gender identity who was assigned the male sex at birth is a transgender woman; and a person with a male gender identity who was assigned the female sex at birth is a transgender man.

Gender identity discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against a worker because of the worker’s gender identity. For instance, if an employer refused to hire an applicant because it learned that the applicant was a transgender man, that would be gender identity discrimination. Another example of gender identity discrimination is when an employer treats a transgender woman differently than a non-transgender woman because the employer believes the transgender woman is not a "real woman." (Non-transgender people are sometimes referred to as "cisgender.")

Harassment against transgender people which creates a hostile work environment is another form of discrimination. A hostile work environment can be created through verbal, written, or physical harassment.

Some examples of harassment that could cause a hostile work environment include:

  • Deriding a transgender person because their appearance or behavior does not conform to stereotypical notions about how a person "should” look or behave;
  • Calling a transgender person "thing" or "it";
  • Hassling a transgender person because they use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity;
  • Referring to a transgender person by the name they were assigned at birth instead of the name they have chosen such as calling a transgender woman named “Jane” by the name she was assigned at birth, “John”;
  • Using female pronouns (she/her/hers) to refer to transgender men and male pronouns (he/him/his) to refer to transgender women (this practice is called "misgendering");
  • Offensive remarks about a specific person’s gender identity or transgender people in general.

There are a variety of ways in which a harasser can create a hostile work environment. If you think you have experienced illegal gender identity discrimination or harassment, you should speak with an experienced employment lawyer.

Maine and U.S. Law Prohibits Gender Identity Discrimination

The Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Under the MHRA, employers may not discriminate against transgender people because of their transgender status, because they have transitioned from one gender to another, because they do not identify as male or female, or because their gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits gender identity discrimination. In the landmark civil rights case called Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court recognized that, as a matter of simple logic, it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being transgender without discriminating against that person because of sex.

What are the Remedies for Gender Identity Discrimination?

Workers who suffer gender identity discrimination are entitled to compensation for the damages they incur. Damages that workers often incur when they experience discrimination are lost pay, lost employee benefits, and emotional distress. Sometimes, punitive damages may also be appropriate. In order to be entitled to the full range of remedies under the MHRA, a worker must file a timely complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission before filing a lawsuit in court.

Trust Your Case to Experienced Attorneys

If an employer has discriminated against you because of your gender identity, the Maine Employee Rights Group may be able to help. Our employment discrimination attorneys have decades of experience representing workers and they can tell you whether you have a case that is worth pursuing. To get a free review of your case, call us at 207.874.0905 or fill out our online contact form.