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Transgender Discrimination? He Said, She Said…

On March 30, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint alleging that Southern Oklahoma State University (“University”) subjected Dr. Rachel Tudor, a professor who is transgender, to unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.  The University denies the allegations.

Dr. Tudor is a male-to-female transgender professor who worked as a tenure track Assistant Professor in the University’s English Department beginning in 2004.  In summer 2007, Dr. Tudor notified the University that she planned to transition from male to female and would begin presenting as a woman at work for the 2007-2008 academic year.  According to the complaint, Dr. Tudor was told her “transgendered lifestyle” offended the religious beliefs of the University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Dr. Tudor submitted an application for tenure in October 2009.  Both her Department Chair and the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee recommended that Dr. Tudor receive a promotion to Associate Professor and tenure.  According to the complaint, the Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs opposed Dr. Tudor’s application for promotion and tenure, but refused to explain their reasons.  Dr. Tudor did not receive tenure, and the complaint alleges that the Vice President refused to allow Dr. Tudor to reapply the following academic year, because it was not in “the best interests of the university.”   The University ultimately denied Dr. Tudor’s grievances and terminated her employment because she failed to attain tenure by the end of her seventh year of employment.

The filing by the DOJ is significant, because it represents a change from its prior stance that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination did not cover gender identity bias.  Now, the EEOC, DOJ, and other federal agencies take the position that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, including transgendered status.  The DOJ’s full press release can be found here.

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