The nomination of Chai Feldblum, an out lesbian attorney and legal scholar, to a second term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was approved in a 54-41 Senate vote on December 12.
Feldblum, whose career has included civil rights legal advocacy on behalf of LGBT people and those with disabilities, is credited with playing a key role in the EEOC’s ruling in April 2012 that, under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a “complaint of discrimination based on gender identity, change of sex, and/ or transgender status” can be pursued on grounds of sex discrimination.
It is customary practice for federal courts to defer to the EEOC in interpreting provisions of Title VII, so the ruling, in Macy v. Holder, marks the culmination of a trend established in the past two decades of gender expression discrimination based on a person’s nonconformity to gender stereotypes being viewed as sex discrimination by federal courts.
The Macy case involved allegations from Mia Macy that she lost a job promised to her at the Walnut Creek crime laboratory of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after she disclosed that she was in the process of a gender transition.
Feldblum, who faced initial resistance in the Senate when she was nominated for her first term at the EEOC, benefited from the recent move by the Senate Democratic majority to eliminate the right to filibuster when presidential appointments are being considered, meaning that there was no requirement that 60 votes be found in this case.
In a written statement, the National Center for Transgender Equality congratulated Feldlbum on her confirmation, saying, “We strongly commend President Obama for this selection. Commissioner Feldblum has been an exemplary public servant her whole career and a civil rights hero. Her work and her thinking have been essential to decades of equal employment advances in the US.”
Feldblum, who is on leave from Georgetown University, is the EEOC's first openly LGBT member and the first with a disability.