Intersexed And Under-Recognized: What You Should Know About Discrimination Lawsuits

Intersex people, those who are born with genitalia that isn't clearly male or female (or is a combination of both), account for about 1 out of every 1,500 births. That makes it more common than being born with spina bifida -- which is far more widely known, but occurs less than 5 times out of every 10,000 births. Yet, intersex people often face discrimination throughout their lives unless they choose to adopt a specifically "male" or "female" persona. Such discrimination isn't fair and it's illegal when it occurs on the job. If you're intersexed, these are some things you should know about your rights:

1.) Your rights are protected under anti-discrimination laws.

There's no specific coverage protecting the intersexed from discrimination, but you have the same rights to protection against gender discrimination as anyone else under the law. The Supreme Court and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) both interpret the law in a way that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sex.

2.) Discrimination on the job can be overt or subtle.

There's a number of different ways you may be subjected to discriminatory practices at work:

  • Little or no bathroom accommodations. Employers may be unwilling to provide you with access to a single-occupant bathroom, but not want you in the men's room or women's room either.
  • A refusal to acknowledge you by your preferred pronouns. If you prefer (like many intersexed people) to be referenced by the neutral terms "them" and "their" when being spoken about, and you say so to your employer, your employer should respect that.
  • Being obligated to define yourself on paperwork as either "male" or "female" (which can create additional legal problems for you, because that paperwork often has an honesty clause, requiring you to state that whatever you put down is true, on penalty of firing).
  • Being harassed, teased, mocked, or openly bullied by co-workers or supervisors for being intersexed. This could include things like public references to your genitalia or calling you an "it" when talking to others.
  • Being pushed into non-public positions so you are effectively invisible to clients or customers.
  • Unfair evaluations of your work, a refusal to promote you, demotions, and firings on the pretext of something else when you suspect (or know) it was because you are intersexed.

3.) Filing a lawsuit to stop discrimination against intersexed people helps others.

You may feel that it isn't worth the bother to force an unwilling employer to change his or her attitudes -- in fact, you probably can't change his or her attitudes. If you were fired, you may not even want your job back. However, you can also sue for your lost wages, damage to your career, emotional distress, and attorney fees.

You can also sue to make your (possibly former) employer change practices. One successful lawsuit can often trigger a domino effect, causing other employers to change their practices as well in order to avoid similar problems. Your willingness to step forward can help other intersexed people achieve equality in the workforce and slowly create awareness of (and acceptance for) this not-so-unusual condition.

Lawsuits asking for intersex recognition and accommodation are being pressed in a variety of venues: one of the most recent is a lawsuit by an intersexed Navy vet who was denied a passport because "male" and "female" were the only gender choices on the forms. Cases like these, if successful, will eventually help make life easier for other intersexed people both in and out of the workplace. To find out more, speak with someone like Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.