Fired for Being Trans?

Transgender Law Center takes the TSA to task over wrongful termination

Ashley Yang (courtesy of TLC)

In July 2010, Ashley Yang was fired from her job as an officer for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – for being a woman. She says her termination followed two years of harassment, discrimination and managers forcing her to pretend to be a man to keep her job. On the anniversary of her termination, Yang and the Transgender Law Center (TLC) completed a settlement against the TSA. They’re calling for the TSA to update their policies and practices to ensure that workers throughout the U.S. are treated with dignity.

“No one should have to choose between their gender and their job,” says Masen Davis, executive director of the TLC. “Every employee has a right to expect the opportunity to work hard, to provide for themselves and their families, and to do this in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Ashley was fired simply for being who she is. In this economy where jobs are scarce, this isn’t only unfair and unkind, it is cruel.”

A month after hiring Yang, TSA managers informed her that she would be required to start working as a male and that failure to do so could result in disciplinary actions. This came after she informed them that she is a transgender woman.

“Working for the TSA was my way of contributing to society,” says Yang. “I valued talking with passengers and was inspired by helping to protect people and making sure they are safe.”

To keep her job, Yang bought a short “male wig” to hide her long hair, complied with TSA’s male dress code, and pretended to be a man at work. Despite her efforts, passengers continued to recognize her as a woman and was commonly harassed. She was often the subject of lewd comments from male passengers. One passenger said, “a little lower there, darling” while she patted him down. Other comments included: “I reaaaally enjoyed that pat-down,” “pat down much lower on my back,” and “I haven’t gotten this much attention from a girl in a while.”

The TLC argued that the TSA had engaged in discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The TSA found the legal arguments persuasive enough to agree to a settlement with TLC and Yang. The settlement agreement included a financial payment and transgender sensitivity training for TSA managers at the Los Angeles International Airport.

“TSA will be a better agency by taking steps to make sure this never happens again,” admits Kristina Wertz, TLC legal director. “Unfortunately, what happened to Ashley is not an uncommon experience for transgender employees. We are advocating for the TSA to expand their employee trainings across the country and to change their policies in regard to transgender employees.”