ACLU Weighs in on Transgender Discrimination Lawsuit Before Hawaii Supreme Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
August 14, 2003 12:00 am

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HONOLULU – Outlining a long history of discrimination against transgender people, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Supreme Court of Hawaii to rule that gender identity discrimination is against state law.

“Discriminating against someone for failing to conform to stereotypes about how a man or woman should look or act is sex discrimination under the law,” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, which submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case today. “Federal and state courts all over the country have found this to be true.”

The issue arose when the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission decided that transgender people are covered by prohibitions against sex discrimination in a case involving several complaints of gender discrimination against a company that provides inventory services to retailers. The company, RGIS Inventory Specialist, then challenged the commission’s decision in court, claiming that transgender people aren’t covered by sex discrimination laws. The commission lost that case and is now appealing it to the state supreme court.

“This is an important question for transgender people in Hawaii, and it needs to be settled,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “It’s far too common for transgender people to lose their jobs, their homes, and even their lives. We hope this lawsuit will be a step forward in correcting the injustices that transgender people face every day.”

While the ACLU is not part of the lawsuit, it is filing a friend-of-the-court brief in order to inform the Court about the application of sex discrimination laws to cases involving gender identity discrimination. In its brief, the ACLU tells the stories of many transgender people who faced egregious discrimination at their jobs, but prevailed in court, including:

  • A female-to-male transsexual was considered an exemplary employee for eight years until he began his gender transition. Then his employer began calling him names and stripping him of job responsibilities.
  • A female-to-male transsexual who had been hired based on qualifications and experience began his gender transition and his employer gave him false, negative performance reviews, reassigned him to an office that required a much longer commute, harassed him, and later fired him.
  • A doctor who was the medical director at an outpatient treatment facility was told “Go back to your previous appearance!” by a supervisor after she began transitioning from male to female. When she refused, she was eventually fired and her patients were told lies that she probably wasn’t practicing medicine anymore.
  • An editorial assistant who was transitioning from male to female was repeatedly told to stop “dressing as a woman” and then fired.
  • A male-to-female transsexual was grilled by supervisors who demanded “medical evidence of her sexuality” and then told her that the driver’s license, Social Security card, and notary public card she had showing her female name weren’t enough. The next day, she was fired.

Courts have viewed gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination in areas ranging beyond employment as well. In its brief, the ACLU cites cases related to housing, public accommodations, education, and credit, and also calls the court’s attention to the violence faced by many transgender people.

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