Pronouns and gender employment discrimination

Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming employees in the workplace

This week, The Seattle Times reported that Merriman-Webster added “they” to the American/English language as a pronoun for a “single person whose gender is nonbinary.” As an employment lawyer, I had to ask myself, “how is this going to affect the workplace?”

My inquiry led me to a chat with my brother, an employee of the City of Portland, Oregon. To him, this issue is an old one. Apparently the City requires its employees to include, a sign-off on their emails, to state a preferred set of pronouns, including they/them, and other employees are required to use that pronoun set when addressing the employee in the third person.

Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming employees and the law

Will there be employment discrimination claims arising from discrimination against non-binary and gender non-conforming people in the workplace? This is a particularly important question in Washington State. Our laws against discrimination cover actions based on gender expression or actual or perceived gender identity in employment. The law also covers housing, public accommodations, insurance, and credit discrimination. In addition, the law covers harassment, bullying and violence.

Since the protections for non-binary and gender non-conforming people are relatively new, details of what employment actions could be illegal and what kinds of behavior will be considered to rise to an actionable level are still developing. As an employment lawyer, I’m looking forward with interest to my first consult with an employer who has no idea how to respond to an employee discrimination complaint that includes pronoun use, or from a trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming employee seeking advice on how to deal with their co-workers who just don’t get it. Variety is the spice of life. The world is an interesting place and it’s just getting more so every day.

Contact Chalmers Johnson with employment concerns now.

The ACLU Washington has great information about our gender discrimination law.

Check out this pdf.