Transgender Equal Rights Bill Passed in Massachusetts

“On November 23, 2011, [Massachusetts] Governor Patrick signed into law House Bill 3810, ‘An Act Relative To Gender Identity.’ The new law protects transgender individuals from discrimination in housing, education, employment and credit by adding ‘gender identity’ to the list of classes protected by various Massachusetts non-discrimination and hate crime statutes.” (Massachusetts Enacts Transgender Equal Rights Bill by Ropes & Gray LLP) 

Extending a broad set of anti-discrimination protections to the roughly 33,000 people in Massachusetts who identify themselves as transgender, the legislation also known as the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Bill will go into effect on July 1, 2012. For your reference, here’s five things employers need to know about the new law:

1. The law extends existing protections to transgender individuals:

“As with members of all protected categories, covered employers are prohibited from refusing to hire, discharging or otherwise discriminating against transgender individuals in their compensation and in their terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. These employers are also forbidden from retaliating against any individual for taking certain actions, such as filing a complaint or objecting to prohibited acts of discrimination.” (Gender Identity Will Become A Protected Class In Massachusetts by Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP) 

2. The law codifies what should have been a long-standing practice:

“… while the law does not take effect until next year, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has long taken the position that discrimination against transgendered individuals is unlawful.” (Massachusetts Enacts Law Prohibiting Discrimination Against Transgendered Individuals by Foley Hoag LLP) 

3. The Massachusetts law is part of a broader trend across the country:

“Massachusetts joins the 15 other states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington and the District of Columbia that have enacted laws preventing private employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity or expression. Similar legislation affecting private employers is pending in 13 other states: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.” (Massachusetts Signs Law Prohibiting Gender Identity Discrimination by Morgan Lewis) 

4. Employers should revise anti-discrimination policies and training: 

“Employers may want to amend policies regarding equal employment and policies regarding discrimination and harassment prevention to address gender identity bias [and] should include gender identity as part of their discrimination and harassment prevention training, as sensitivity to gender expression may be something that has not been addressed in the past…” (Massachusetts Passes Legislation Banning Employment Discrimination Based on Gender Identity Bias by Duane Morris LLP) 

5. Sensitivity is key:

“It is important to note that the legislature adopted a fairly broad definition of ‘gender identity.’ The law’s protections are not limited to individuals who have undergone, or are in the process of undergoing, sexual reassignment surgery… To avoid discrimination or harassment claims, employers should train their workforce to be sensitive to all types of gender identity or expression, regardless of whether such expressions conform to traditional notions of what it is to be ‘male’ or ‘female.’ (Massachusetts Passes Legislation Protecting Transgender Employees in the Workplace by Littler) 

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See also: Discrimination Against Transgender Employees On The Basis of Gender Non-Conformity Ruled Illegal (Akerman Senterfitt)

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