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Woman who underwent sex change wins workplace discrimination claim

By Bill Mears, CNN
updated 1:42 PM EST, Mon December 12, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Transgender workers are protected under the Constitution, a judicial panel rules
  • "Gender non-conformity ... protections are afforded to everyone," the ruling says
  • Vandy Beth Glenn says she was told her change would be viewed as "immoral"

Washington (CNN) -- Transgender groups are applauding a court ruling in favor of a Georgia woman who sued after claiming she was fired from her state position because of a sex change.

A federal appeals court in Atlanta concluded transgender workers are protected under the Constitution. Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn was a legislative editor in the Georgia General Assembly

"The question here is whether discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause," said the three-judge panel. "We hold that it does."

The 19-page ruling came last week, not long after the court heard oral arguments in Atlanta, a very fast turnaround in such an appeal.

Glenn -- who was once known as Glenn Morrision -- alleged she was told she was let go because her 2005 decision to transition from male to female would be viewed as "immoral" by state lawmakers.

Her boss also objected to Glenn showing up at an office Halloween party dressed as a woman, and asked Glenn to leave.

A federal judge later concluded Glenn's supervisor believed the gender reassignment was inappropriate, disruptive and would make her co-workers uncomfortable. The judge, when ruling for Glenn, had said she could return to work, but delayed that until the appeals court ruled. Monday's decision means she could be back on the job within days.

State attorneys had argued no discrimination laws were broken since protections extended to certain classes of individuals did not include transgender employees. The appeals panel said the reasons cited by the state in its defense were not acceptable.

"An individual cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender non-conformity," said the ruling. "Because these protections are afforded to everyone, they cannot be denied to a transgender individual."

The court added, "For example, courts have held that plaintiffs cannot be discriminated against for wearing jewelry that was considered too effeminate, carrying a serving tray too gracefully, or taking too active a role in child-rearing."

Among the judges who supported the woman, who now goes by Vandy Beth Glenn, was William Pryor, one of the most conservative federal appeals judges. He was named to the court by President George W. Bush in 2005.

The state has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court for review.

The case is Glenn v. Brumby (10-14833).

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