by Stefanie M. Renaud
Massachusetts law has prohibited discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing since 2011, but a new law taking effect on October 1 will expand transgender protections to places of public accommodation.
On July 8, Governor Charles Baker signed into law a bill that prohibits discrimination against persons because of their gender identity in places of public accommodation.
Also, transgender persons will be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding with their gender identity. Additionally, the law explicitly prohibits the use of gender identity for improper purposes and requires the Massachusetts attorney general to develop guidelines for law enforcement on addressing improper claims of gender identity.
Even though state law already prohibits employers from discriminating against transgender people, the new statute does have implications for Massachusetts employers. First and foremost, employees must be allowed to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity.
Also, the bill is a reminder that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that employers may not require transgender employees to use a unisex bathroom and that doing so may be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Additionally, businesses that are considered places of public accommodation, such as retail stores, restaurants, and hotels, may not refuse service to people because of their gender identity. Employers should inform employees who have customer contact of the new requirement and provide training if necessary.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is to issue rules and regulations designed to accomplish the law’s goals by September 1. Specifically, MCAD must issue rules to determine how and when the sincerity of a person’s gender identity can be “proven” to merit protection under the law.