In a landmark step forward for transgender Americans, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that Sam’s Club discriminated against a transgender employee—a ruling that may pave the way for future transgender-inclusive interpretations of the Civil Rights Act.
Jessica Robison originally filed a charge against Sam’s Club with the EEOC, an independent federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination law, alleging that she was discriminated against as an employee because she is transgender. She stated “she has unfairly been denied the opportunity to be considered for promotions, that her wages are being partially withheld, and that her complaints are being ignored because of her sex (transgender status/gender identity),” the EEOC’s letter of determination reads.
Robison also argued that she “is being denied medically necessary care that would be covered by her employer-provided health benefit plan if not for her transgender status,” and that her employers were retailing against her discrimination complaints.
In turn, the EEOC’s letter of determination ruled that Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, discriminated against Robison and that her denied wages and promotion opportunities were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it “shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employment agency to fail or refuse to refer for employment, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The EEOC’s interpretation argues that “sex” includes transgender people as well.
The EEOC also ruled that Sam’s Club discriminated against Robison by denying her medical coverage for transgender care, and the agency has since called upon Sam’s Club to enter into a conciliation process. Previously, Walmart removed a provision that barred transgender medical coverage from its health benefits program.
Transgender rights activists are celebrating the ruling. Jillian Weiss at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund praised the EEOC’s letter.
“[This] means the U.S. government recognizes that transgender people are human beings entitled to civil rights, and discrimination against transgender people will not be tolerated,” Weiss said, NBC News reports.
She also warned that if the conciliation process between Sam’s Club and Robison fails, the fund would take up the issue to court. However, Walmart is expected to concede.
“[From] a pure business model perspective … it’s better for them to remedy the discrimination than take the hit on their brand,” Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Anthony Kreis said, according to NBC News. He also argued that the determination “reaffirms” EEOC’s argument that “gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.”
“The EEOC has been very strong on this particular issue and reinforcing that position,” he said.