By Aaron Sankin
Transgender advocates were handed a victory earlier this week when the Department of Justice ruled that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) broke the law in not offering a job to a ballistics expert after discovering that she was transgender.
In June of 2011, Mia Macy, a military veteran who had worked as a detective on the Phoenix, Ariz. police force, filed suit against the ATF. In it, she claimed that her transgender status was the reason she was not selected for a position as a ballistics forensics technician at an agency field office in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek.
When Macy began the application process, she identified as male. By the time the final hiring decision was made, Macy had changed her name and now identifies as a woman.
The decision requires that ATF offer Macy the position, provide back pay and benefits with interest, as well as cover her legal costs. In addition, the agency will be forced to implement anti-discrimination policies for that particular facility.
“It’s a victory for all transgender people to know that we have a voice, that we have recourse, and that when it comes to workplace protections we deserve to make a living,” said Macy in a statement. “I couldn’t be happier.”
According to the DoJ’s 51-page report, Macy applied for a position where she would use a computer program to match digital images of the markings on bullet casings from crime scenes with those stored in an ATF database. Macy has said she is one of about 40 people in the United States certified by the agency to use the software, and insisted that she was never informed that she “lacked any qualifications for the job.”
During the agency’s standard comprehensive background check process, Macy informed her prospective employers that she had been previously diagnosed with gender identity disorder and, a few weeks prior, had undergone feminine facial surgery.
The following week, she received an email from ATF saying that the position she was applying for had been eliminated due to budget cuts. She later said she was “stunned” to learn that, despite its claim of poverty, the agency had hired someone else for the role.
According to interviews with an ATF staff member, an initial internal decision had been made to hire Macy, on the provision that she passed a background check. However, Macy was never explicitly informed of said decision. Even so, the staffer insisted that two positions had been combined into one as a money-saving measure and they simply decided to hire the other candidate, who was by then further along in the background check process. ATF officials were unable to produce any written documentation for using this line of reasoning for not hiring Macy.
Macy’s suit already made history last year when it it prompted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to rule that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans employers from discriminating based on an employee’s gender identity. The EEOC’s ruling was binding across all government agencies and set the stage for the DoJ’s ultimate decision in in the Macy case.
“What was so strange about this case is that most people file a claim, it gets investigated, it either happened or it didn’t, and then there’s some resolution,” she explained. “The difference with my case is the findings are…based off of a decision that I had to create. There was not a system in place that protected us, so I had to first go get the protections for us and then come back and hold them to that standard.”