The Division of Human Rights Proposes Regulations to Expand Anti-Discrimination Protections to Transgender Individuals
December 23, 2015proposed regulations, which were published in the New York State Register on November 4, 2015, make discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity or the status of being transgender a form of sex discrimination prohibited under state law. The proposed regulations would also make “gender dysphoria” a protected disability under state law, prohibit harassment on the basis of one’s gender dysphoria, and obligate employers to provide accommodations to employees diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The regulations define “gender dysphoria” as a “recognized medical condition related to an individual having a gender identity different from the sex assigned to him or her at birth.” The 45-day comment period recently ended, which clears the way for the Division of Human Rights to adopt the regulations. However, it is anticipated that the Division will wait until early 2016 to begin enforcing the Human Rights Law with respect to transgender applicants and employees. The anti-discrimination statute in New York City and several other city ordinances already extend protection to transgender individuals. In addition, earlier this year, the Department of Justice and the EEOC began interpreting the sex discrimination prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to cover discrimination against transgender individuals. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs also issued a final rule prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees or applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. A great deal of litigation is likely to occur in this area in the upcoming year, not only to challenge the application of the various federal and state laws to transgender individuals, but also to address complex and sensitive issues including how employers will need to handle issues of confidentiality, employee benefits, accommodations for restroom access, and other issues that might arise for employees transitioning from one gender to another. Employers would be well-advised to begin to review their employee handbooks and other employment policies and practices to prepare for these expanded protections for transgender employees and applicants.