New Massachusetts Law Protects Transgender Individuals

On November 23, 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law “An Act Relative to Gender Identity.” The new law prohibits – among other things – workplace discrimination on the basis of one’s “gender identity.” Massachusetts is now one of sixteen states to include transgender individuals as a protected class in anti-discrimination laws. The statute will take effect on July 1, 2012. In addition to employment, it prohibits discrimination in housing, mortgage loans, and credit. It also protects transgender individuals under existing hate crime laws.

Who is protected by the new legislation?

The statute defines “gender identity” as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” The statute provides that gender identity “may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of the person’s core identity.”

How does the new law affect employers?

In light of this change in the law, employers should change their employee handbooks, equal employment opportunity statements, and anti-harassment policies to specifically include gender identity as a protected class. Employers should also include gender identity as part of any future anti-harassment training programs so that all workers are informed of the issue.

Managers should be educated to take appropriate action if they become aware of any discriminatory conduct directed against an employee on the basis of his or her gender identity. Failure to take appropriate action may lead to liability on the part of the employer and the individual manager.

Employers should also be sensitive to an employee’s wishes to be referred to by a name that is different from the employee’s legal name. Sensitivity is also warranted in the use of pronouns that are appropriate to the employee’s gender-identity and in dress code requirements. As common sense would dictate, employers should also refrain from inquiring about any medical procedures the employee may have received.

Thanks to Miki Matrician for her help with this post!