Massachusetts Extends Legal Protections to Transgender Individuals

Nov 26, 2011

Massachusetts has extended the protection of its civil rights laws to to transgender individuals, adding protections against discrimination in housing education, employment and credit.  The bill, which was signed by Governor Deval Patrick on November 23, 2011,  adds gender identity as a protected category to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, the state’s anti-discrimination law.   Previously the state’s anti-discrimination statute prohibited employers from discriminating against an employee because of that individual’s race,  color,  religious creed,  national origin,  sex,  sexual orientation,  genetic information or ancestry.  Now the law adds gender identity to the list of protected categories,  making it illegal for Massachusetts employers to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s gender identity.  Gender identity is defined in the bill 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. ”

Interesting, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination previously held in cases such as Jette v.  Honey Farms Mini Market, (October 10, 2001) that discrimination based upon gender identity expression  is prohibited discrimination based upon sex.  The  Commission has also held that the legislature didn’t intend to exclude gender identity from the definition of disability discrimination.  In the Honey Farms case, the employer tried to require a store clerk to use the name she was born with, “Raymond” rather than “Rachel” and to dress in male clothing.   The employee brought a discrimination complaint before the Commission and the Commission denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the claim of disability discrimination.  In the Honey Farms case, though, the employee had to fight a motion to dismiss, and the matter was referred to the full commission for review and consideration.  With the new law on the books (and the benefit of earlier case law) a transgender employee wouldn’t have to jump through those hoops just to get the case heard.

The new law signed by Governor Patrick means that transgender individuals who are discriminated against in the workplace can point directly to gender identity as being a protected category under the law, and their lawyers won’t need to try to make a case that it falls under another protected category such as sex or disability.   Gender identity is now a protected status under Massachusetts law, and it is illegal for employers to refuse to hire,  fire, harass or otherwise discriminate against an employee based upon that individual’s gender identity and/or expression.

For any questions on this post, please contact Boston, Massachusetts employment lawyer Maura Greene at 617-936-1580.

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