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Transgender Issues in the Law  
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Individuals who are or who otherwise do not conform to society's gender norms experience widespread discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, marriage and family litigation, medical care, prisons, schools, and hate crimes protection. An increasing number of states and municipalities have passed transgender rights legislation, and recent case law has generally favored transgender clients. However, transpeople often continue to be denied basic rights on the national, state, and local level.

Disability and Sex Discrimination Laws

Although is recognized as a medical condition, transsexuals are not covered under federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Both the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 explicitly exclude transsexuals from protection.

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Some state disability laws likewise exempt transsexual people, including the statutes of Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. However, state courts or administrative agencies in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Washington have ruled that, as a significant physical or mental impairment, transsexuality is a protected disability under state laws. The California legislature has also removed transsexuality from the state's ADA restrictions.

Title VII of federal law prohibits sex discrimination in employment, but courts have historically rejected the application of the law to transgender people. For example, in Ulane v. Eastern Airlines (1984), the Seventh Circuit Court held that a transsexual woman who was fired from her job as an airline pilot because she underwent gender reassignment/confirmation surgery was not protected under Title VII, based on the dehumanizing argument that a transsexual is neither male nor female.

However, five years later, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman who was denied a promotion because her employer considered her to be too masculine could bring a claim under the law, thus creating a more expansive interpretation of Title VII.

Since then, both federal district and circuit courts have applied sex discrimination laws to transgender people and other gender non-conforming individuals. In 2004, in one of the most far-reaching of these cases, Smith v. City of Salem (Ohio), the Sixth Circuit Court ruled that a transsexual woman firefighter who was harassed for not being "masculine enough" had legal recourse under the law. The decision was upheld on appeal and strengthened by a similar finding by the court in Barnes v. Cincinnati (2005), a case involving a transsexual woman police officer.

One notable exception to the more inclusive understanding of Title VII is Oiler v. Winn-Dixie (2002), in which a federal district judge dismissed the suit of Peter Oiler, a truck driver for the grocery chain, who was fired from his job when his employer learned that he occasionally cross-dressed outside of work.

As Title VII has been interpreted to include transgender people in recent years, so too have state sex discrimination laws. Courts or administrative agencies in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York have ruled that transgender people are protected under statutes prohibiting sex discrimination.

Transgender Civil Rights Laws

No federal law protects the rights of transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Until recently, the main lesbian and gay rights group behind the Employment Non-Discrimination Act had even opposed the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the proposed legislation for fear that it would lessen its chance of passage.

As of 2006, only seven states (California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington) and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations (an eighth state, Hawaii, covers just housing and public accommodations).

However, more than 80 cities and counties have enacted ordinances protecting the rights of transgender people. These laws have been passed not only in major urban areas such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, and San Francisco, but also in smaller municipalities such as Covington, Kentucky; Huntington Woods, Michigan; Iowa City, Iowa; New Hope, Pennsylvania; and Peoria, Illinois.

Employment Policies

In 1997, Lucent Technologies became the first major corporation to add "gender identity/expression" to its nondiscrimination policy. A decade later, about one-fourth of the Fortune 500 companies have similarly amended their nondiscrimination policies.

In addition, a rapidly growing number of companies cover all or part of the health care costs of employees who transition from one gender to the other. These corporations include Apple, Avaya, Dupont, IBM, Lucent, and JP Morgan Chase.

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