Tyler S. Bugg


Recent Posts by Tyler S. Bugg

  • What Mia Macy's Victory Means for Transgender Workers' Rights

    Jul 29, 2013Tyler S. Bugg

    The Justice Department's ruling in Mia Macy's lawsuit against the ATF is a significant win in the fight against employment discrimination for the transgender community, but there's still more to be done.

    The Justice Department's ruling in Mia Macy's lawsuit against the ATF is a significant win in the fight against employment discrimination for the transgender community, but there's still more to be done.

    It has been over a year since I last wrote about Mia Macy and her lawsuit, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the state of employment discrimination for transgender people like Macy. To review, Macy was tentatively offered a position as a ballistics expert at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), pending a background check, and the background check revealed her gender transition. The hiring manager then told Macy the position was being eliminated due to budget cuts and hired another applicant. Her high-profile lawsuit against the ATF for rescinding this job offer has resulted in a long and arduous battle in court. Now her work has finally paid off.

    Earlier this month, a Justice Department decision was handed down in favor of Macy, ruling that the ATF broke the law in not offering her a job as a ballistics expert -- a move the ruling says was motivated by direct discrimination based on her gender identity. The ruling requires the ATF to again offer the job to Macy, pay her back pay and benefits with interest, and cover all of her legal costs. Even better, the decision stipulates that the agency must implement its own anti-discrimination policies to be applied to all its other employees and future job applicants.

    Macy’s hallmark challenge was already considered a victory last year when the complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prompted the agency to independently rule that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans employers from discriminating based on an employee’s gender identity or expression. Her Department of Justice suit win this year only extends and celebrates the progress she began in ultimately ensuring a more just and equitable body of employment law for the United States labor force.

    The benefit this has for employer-employee relations, employee productivity, and general satisfaction with job environment safety and morale is obvious. I have written previously about why more inclusive employment anti-discrimination protections are both sound social policy and sound business policy – employees and job applicants feel less anxiety about their workplace environments, employers reap the benefits of happier and more qualified applicant pools, and diverse workplaces encourage a respectful and productive mode of labor that better mirrors the country’s diversity outside of the workplace.

    All of those outcomes remain true with Macy’s DOJ win. What is unique about Macy’s case is that, for the first time, the federal government is backing challenges of private and government employers by the transgender community. The DOJ decision in Macy’s case represents a significant precedent in the government’s interest in and implementation of more aggressive anti-discrimination policies, especially at the federal level.

    The federal government’s sudden activism on behalf of transgender employees is curious, then, as it also continues to stall the passing of ENDA at the federal level. While Macy’s DOJ win is significant, it only applies to her individual case and to her particular employer. ENDA, as a more comprehensive plan to protect all of the nation’s employees, is a preventative measure, and remains absolutely necessary. If the government wishes to remain consistent with the spirit of its findings in Macy’s case, then it must move forward in considering ENDA. Its passage will be an important next step for extending benefits of protection past Macy to all other persons fired, not hired, or denied a promotion or salary increase as a result of their gender and sexuality identity statuses.

    However, even ENDA has its limits, and they point to the failings of employment and labor law in this country more broadly. While ENDA certainly has a symbolic significance and a legal usefulness for transgender employees, real change cannot only rely on the jurisdictions of the court system. The effectiveness of employment protections for everyone, not just transgender people, is less than satisfactory. While proponents of ENDA push its necessity by pointing out that it is legal to fire someone for identifying as transgender in 34 states, in the 49 states where “at-will” employment law is the overarching standard, it is completely legal to fire someone for any reason at all and without explanation.

    As we move away from Macy’s case, it is economically, socially, and legally important that transgender activists mobilizing within workers’ rights causes have a stake in the larger, more structural state of employment law for everyone, and vice versa. It is only when we finds the ways to consider all critiques across the board that we can find the change-oriented solution that the transgender community has been fighting for throughout Macy’s legal battles. With this shared understanding, we can build the most just and equitable workplaces for transgender people, and indeed all people.

    Tyler S. Bugg is a New York-based writer, activist, and artist and an alumnus of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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  • The EEOC Stands Up for Transgendered Workers While Congress Stalls

    Apr 30, 2012Tyler S. Bugg

    genderless-icon-144The EEOC's decision to extend protections against discrimination to transgender workers is an important step toward social justice and a stronger economy.

    genderless-icon-144The EEOC's decision to extend protections against discrimination to transgender workers is an important step toward social justice and a stronger economy.

    Two months ago, I wrote that our country should pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and expedite the process of ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. This month, we’re one step closer. A groundbreaking ruling handed down from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on April 20 dictates that protections against gender identity discrimination are covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and can be called upon in gender and sex discrimination complaints to the bureau and in subsequent lawsuits. This is a major leap forward for transgender Americans and for their job security.

    The landmark change came as a response to the case of Mia Macy, a transgender woman and former Phoenix police officer who applied for and was tentatively accepted for a ballistics job -- until the employer conducted a background check. After obtaining information about Macy’s transition from a man to a woman, the employer allegedly (and untruthfully) informed Macy the offer was eliminated due to budget cuts and then promptly filled the position with another (not transgender) applicant. EEOC policy has been vague on exactly the types of cases are covered under its statutes, and are therefore under its legal jurisdiction, and detrimentally so. But under the new ruling, Macy’s filing of a complaint of gender discrimination with the EEOC can move forward to the next investigative steps.

    The new ruling, however, has ramifications much larger than Macy’s case alone. It clarifies existing national policy and makes stronger what’s often been a too slowly evolving area of employment law. It sets into motion protections for potential employees from workplace discrimination regardless of their gender identification, expression, or status. The policy holds obvious significance for cutting away unnecessary pressures within the workplace environment, pressures that are both bad social policy and bad business policy.

    Human Rights Watch’s “Corporate Equality Index” has striking evidence in support of the last point. Not only are employees who usually face discrimination finding more inclusive employment laws beneficial, so are employers. While employees experience higher confidence in their job searches and eventual careers, employers can access improved applicant pools. Benefits like more inclusive health plans and policies, gender-minority support and focus groups, and diversity councils are all additional assets that strengthen the commitment to productive and respectful employer-employee relations, guided by principles of fairness and equity. The economic outlook, in the long run, is the real winner.

    The EEOC ruling will also have profound effects in curbing some disturbing trends. Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) shows that mistreatment at work is widespread. A disturbingly high 90 percent of transgender individuals reported feeling harassed or mistreated at work, and 47 percent reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion or salary increase as a result of their non-conforming gender status.

    On top of this, the lack of protection against discrimination in the workplace has long had alarmingly adverse effects on gender-minority individuals elsewhere. The NCTE further reports that as transgender employees face workplace discrimination, their personal lives suffer as well. As a result of negative workplace environments, transgender individuals are four times more likely to be homeless, 70 percent more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, and 85 percent more likely to be incarcerated.

    The EEOC ruling is a vital first step with the potential to be a game changer in the job market. Its potential for setting a precedent for the passage of laws like the ENDA, one of the most stagnant pieces of legislation of the past two decades, is also promising. But it’s not the whole solution. While it's certainly a strong deterrent for employers with histories or ongoing incidents of gender discrimination, it’s only a mechanism as strong as we make it. It shouldn’t only be a reactive method that penalizes discrimination by threatening lawsuits, legal fees, and unwanted government intervention. Rather, it should foster a culture of prevention aimed at normalizing acceptance of all workers.

    Tyler S. Bugg is a member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and an Organizing Fellow with Obama for America studying international affairs and human geography at the University of Georgia.

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  • The Unprotected Class: Filling the Gaping Hole in Anti-Discrimination Labor Laws

    Feb 21, 2012Tyler S. Bugg

    genderless-icon-144Ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will create a fairer society and a more productive workplace.

    genderless-icon-144Ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will create a fairer society and a more productive workplace.

    Employment discrimination has a long legacy -- and continues to be a widespread problem -- in the job market. In response, federal legislation has offered what seems a comprehensive body of protections. Among them, the milestone Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects classes of "race, color, religion, sex, and national origin," the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals ages 40 years or older, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects qualified individuals with disabilities, among others. These federal laws have also set solid precedent for state-level anti-discrimination laws.

    There is a gaping hole, however. Protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are missing in federal legislation and in much of state law, to the detriment of an ever-diversifying citizenry and job market.

    The need is clear. Several studies by the Williams Institute have found that as much as 68 percent of LGBT respondents have experienced workplace discrimination. The impact is undoubtedly wide; reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation nationwide are roughly equal to those based on race and gender. Discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity is equally as pervasive as that against classes already protected under federal law. It should enjoy the same protections.

    The public is demanding more protections. A 2007 Gallup poll reported that 89 percent of Americans believed gays and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace. And these protections benefit employers. Human Rights Campaign's "Corporate Equality Index" finds that companies that add anti-discrimination protections into their policies significantly benefit from doing so. Potential employees experience higher security and comfort in their job searches, the careers they choose, and the resources their employers offer -- things like inclusive health benefits, support groups, and diversity councils, among others. Employers, as a result, hire the most qualified people for the job, and the broader economic outlook is positively fostered through effective employee-employer relations.

    Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

    The need for adding these protections hasn't gone completely unnoticed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Project, 21 states and D.C. have added classes of sexual orientation to fair employment law. Fifteen of those states have also instituted protections based on gender identity. A sizable portion of the states are taking initiative and rallying in support of more inclusive policies. Their actions are a running start for what should be a huge leap for a nationwide commitment for broader equality.

    Federally, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill proposed in Congress, seeks to add federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It aims to eliminate the disadvantaging of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in applying for and receiving jobs based on their identity. Guarding against unfair hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation practices, ENDA ensures a greater level of workplace equality.

    This would clearly address the need for comprehensive protection. A long history of congressional bodies, however, thinks otherwise. Congress has reintroduced, but never passed, ENDA in each and every year since 1994. And despite White House support, the bill's acceleration towards passage is slow.

    Even if ENDA passed, we also need a stronger Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and more proactive, more transparent reporting mechanisms. Effective enforcement policy -- including an expressed maximum number of days that can pass before a filed complaint is heard or a minimum amount of compensatory damages guaranteed to a target of discrimination -- is the most crucial tool of deterrence against future and continuous workplace discrimination.

    A worker's contribution does not depend on any certain notion of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other identity factor. All people, regardless of how they conduct their private lives, can be valuable assets to the workplace, the economy, and our larger society. In short, broader inclusion is both good business and good principle. It enables employers to recruit the most competitive talent for the job, regardless of an applicant's identity, and allows the workplace to be a rigorous example for promoting principles of inclusion, fairness, and equality.

    Labor protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are, most directly, a crucial step for ensuring a more equitable workplace environment. But ultimately, they would set a much broader precedent for progressive inclusion in other areas of discrimination law -- college admissions, health and insurance benefits, and marriage equality, to name a few.

    Tyler S. Bugg is an Organizing Fellow with Obama for America and a member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network studying international affairs and human geography at the University of Georgia.

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