[August 16, 2012] On July 1, 2012, the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Law (the “Transgender Law”) went into effect, making Massachusetts the sixteenth state to enact a law protecting rights of transgender residents. The new law prohibits discrimination based on “gender identity” in employment, education, housing, credit, and lending, while also making violence against transgender individuals a hate crime.
The Transgender Law defines “gender identity” as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” Thus, this new law protects not only those individuals whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth, but also those individuals who do not fit traditional gender roles or cultural norms even though their gender identity is consistent with their assigned sex at birth.
The employment-related provisions of the Transgender Law have been incorporated into Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, the Commonwealth’s equal employment opportunity statute. Accordingly, claims of workplace discrimination based on gender identity will typically be initiated by the filing of a charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) and, as with other such charges, may be removed by the employee to the Massachusetts Superior Court.
Employers should consider the following measures for achieving compliance with the Transgender Law and, in turn, minimizing their potential exposure to liability under its provisions:
• Update policies related to equal employment opportunity, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment, and revise forms related to employment applications, recruitment materials, managers’ guides and employee handbooks so that they include gender identity as a protected class;
• Train managers and supervisors to appropriately address transgender issues in all aspects of human resources, including interviewing, hiring, evaluating performance, imposing discipline, and terminating the employment relationship;
• Provide employees with notice of the new law and your organization’s expectations regarding lawful and respectful treatment of transgender employees (and consider doing so in conjunction with general training on diversity, sensitivity, and appreciation of differences); and
• Ensure that all individuals designated in your organization’s discrimination and harassment policies understand how to respond quickly, appropriately, and decisively to allegations or incidents that implicate the new law.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the Transgender Law, would like our assistance with training or other compliance efforts, or may need assistance in investigating or defending a charge of discrimination based on gender identity.