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Prison guard settles gender identity case

A prison guard who worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been paid $500,000 to settle her discrimination case against the state agency. She agreed as part of her settlement not to seek re-employment with the agency.

The guard alleged that after beginning to wear clothing associated with females, others at the Department called the guard derogatory names and demanded full compliance with the prison's dress code as set out for males. The guard had worked for California's prison system since 2002 but began to publicly dress as a woman in 2012.

For its part, although the prison system did agree to settle, it did so without admitting to wrongdoing and indicated that it would continue to deny the allegations. Although the court dismissed the lawsuit last November due to the settlement, the settlement terms only became publicly available recently.

Under California law, discrimination based on gender identity is illegal. This means that employers, including state agencies, must ensure that all workers are free from an environment hostile to transgender employees.

Likewise, there is a current movement in the federal court system arguing that existing federal civil rights laws, specifically Title VII, should be read so as to prohibit discrimination based both on gender identity and sexual orientation. The ultimate outcome on this movement, however, will depend on future rulings of the United States Supreme Court.

In any event, California's laws clearly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. This discrimination can be outright, or it can occur should an employer refuse to prevent or shut down a hostile working environment. If an employee feels his or her employer has violated these rules, then the employee may seek appropriate compensation, including for items like back pay, attorney fees and non-economic damages.

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