On March 21, students, faculty and alumni of the Law School joined members of the Sparer Fellowship Program for a luncheon and panel discussion on employment law issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community, particularly for transgender workers.
The Sparer Fellowship Program sponsors a series of public interest and multi-disciplinary forums throughout the academic year. These programs cover a wide array of public interest topics, including economic development, violence against women, and immigration law. The March event was organized by Sparer Fellow Rebeccah Watson ’12. “Putting this panel together was important to me, as I have a long abiding interest in the issues of women’s rights and LGBTQ and employment law,” said Watson.
Professor Minna Kotkin, the Director of the Law School’s Employment Law Clinic, moderated a distinguished panel of scholars that included Dru Levasseur, an attorney with Lambda Legal, Michael Silverman, Executive Director for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), and Carmelyn Malalis, a partner at the firm of Outten & Golden.
The program began with an overview by Kotkin on the challenges facing transgender individuals, noting that in a recent national survey of transgender and gender nonconforming people, 90 percent reported some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. Approximately half of transgender people report experiencing an adverse job outcome because of their gender identity. This includes being allegedly passed over for a job (44 percent), getting fired (26 percent), and being denied a promotion (23 percent).
Levasseur expressed the economic impact employment discrimination has on transgender workers. “Over 50 percent of trans people are living on the poverty line” said Levasseur, who noted that last year 10 percent of the more than 7,000 help desk calls placed to Lambda Legal were transgender-related. “Many trans people can’t find jobs, are fired, or have job offers or benefits rescinded due to their gender identity or expression. It is important for employers and state and federal governments to be explicit about protecting the rights of transgender workers,” he said.
Silverman discussed the discriminatory issues related to medically necessary healthcare for transgender employees. For example, transgender people face the greatest barriers to quality healthcare, coupled with a shortage of research on areas such as cancer risks and patient experiences. “They face frequent discrimination by healthcare providers, many of whom also lack information about transgender bodies and healthcare needs,” said Silverman.
Malalis agreed that the law has progressed over the last 35 years to reflect that discrimination based on gender is no different than discrimination based on changing one’s gender. But she added that much more needs to be done. “Although legal conversations are important, the education component of this is equally as important” she pointed out. She encouraged students to “think of creative ways to influence employees, employers, and judges to help build a foundation of policy, practice, and education” that would aid this population.
“Employment discrimination against transgender persons is a significant issue in today’s workplace,” added Kotkin. “These nationally known legal advocates are leading the way for us in developing both legislative and litigation-related strategies to address this issue.”