Workplace Discrimination: Transgender Woman Urges Lawmakers to Pass Reforms

Should Discrimination on Gender Identity Be Legal? Ga. Court to Decide.

September 24, 2009, 1:56 PM

Sept. 25, 2009— -- When Vandy Beth Glenn, formerly Glenn Morrison, was summoned to her boss's office Oct. 16, 2007, she was not prepared for the exchange that followed.

"He asked me if what he had heard was true: did I really intend to come to work as a woman? I told him yes, it was true."

Glenn, a transgender woman preparing for a sex-change procedure at the time, told she expected her boss would "do the right thing."

Instead, Sewell Brumby, legislative counsel for the Georgia General Assembly allegedly told Glenn she was no longer suitable for her job.

"Mr. Brumby told me that people would think I was immoral. He told me I would make other people uncomfortable, just by being myself. He told me that my transition was unacceptable. And over and over, he told me it was inappropriate."

Then, Brumby fired Glenn.

"I'm not sure I was really thinking anything in that moment other than utter shock," Glenn told "That he was so matter of fact about it blew my mind."

The subsequent federal lawsuit brought by Glenn and Lambda Legal, a gay, lesbian and transgender advocacy group, has drawn national attention and renewed debate over the necessity of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently pending in the House of Representatives. The bill would make discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal across the country.

By all accounts, Glenn, 30, had performed well in her role as a legislative editor, proofing Georgia bills and resolutions for grammar and readability for over two years.

"Everyone agrees her performance was good," said Glenn's attorney Cole Thaler. This firing was "not performance based ... and the other side agrees."

Now, Glenn wants her job back and is awaiting a decision in her case from the Federal District Court in Atlanta.

"I am not seeking any money in my lawsuit," she told House lawmakers Wednesday at a hearing on employment discrimination. "I am asking for just one thing: to be given my job back. I love that job, I can do it well, and I never want another transgender person to experience the discrimination I've endured."

Reached at his Georgia office by phone Thursday, Brumby declined to comment on the case or the events that led to it.

Brumby's lawyer did not return calls from for comment.

Lawmakers Weigh Expansion of Anti-Discrimination Law

At issue in Glenn's case is whether or not discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unconstitutional. Georgia law does not explicitly prohibit the practice.

Existing federal law prohibits employer discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, national origin and disability -- but not sexual orientation or gender identity.

Still, Glenn's attorney says those protections apply in this case. He argues Glenn faced discrimination based on sex or "sex stereotypes" and based on her diagnosed medical condition -- situations which are prohibited under existing law.

Glenn currently receives treatment for "gender identity disorder" – a classification recognized in the American Psychological Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual" – and is undergoing treatment to transition to living as a woman.

"It's a misconception that gender transition is a one-step process," Thaler told "The timing varies from person to person, and Vandy Beth had been in counseling and receiving hormone therapy," prior to her firing.

Her immediate supervisor had been aware of Glenn's condition and was "supportive." But in October 2007, as Glenn prepared to "present 24/7 as the woman she identifies with," her supervisor informed Brumby that Glenn intended to come to work dressed as a woman.

It was shortly thereafter that Brumby summoned Glenn to his office and fired her.

House lawmakers are currently considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- a bill that would make discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people explicitly illegal.

"The law really needs to be explicit," Thaler told "Otherwise, we have to fight in every jurisdiction from scratch."

House Bill Would Give GLBT Employment Protections

The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, H.R. 3017, is similar to federal sex and disability discrimination laws already on the books. It also includes an exemption for faith-based employers.

The Obama administration supports the bill.

But some of its provisions -- like whether to include both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories -- have been the center of considerable debate and hindered the bill's progress through Congress.

Some lawmakers question the extensiveness of exemptions for religious schools and other faith-based employers and wonder whether the law, as written, is too nebulous to be enforced.

One group opposed to the legislation, Focus on the Family, says the bill will create a "litigation minefield" and pose a "direct threat to religious liberty in the workplace."

In a letter sent to House lawmakers Sept. 2, the group also said forcing companies to protect against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination would "harm American businesses" by increasing "compliance costs."

But advocacy groups, like Thaler's organization Lambda Legal, disagree.

"We've had federal sex discrimination laws since 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act," said Thaler. "I don't think we've seen any suppression of employers' rights or confusion raining in the courts."

As the debate continues, Glenn, who is currently freelance editing and temping in Atlanta, says she is optimistic about the outcome of her case and broader acceptance of transgender people.

She says she believes her outspokenness is helping to put a human face on the issue.

"It's human nature to fear things we don't understand or know about," she said. "In the past, it was African Americans, Jewish people, even the Irish, at one point. If you don't know about the 'other,' it's easy to demonize the 'other.'"

ABC News' Lisa Chinn contributed to this report.