Are Misgendered Pronouns Discrimination?

Everyone deserves to feel welcome and treated with respect in the workplace. For many people, this includes being referred to by the pronouns of their choosing. Unfortunately, this level of respect isn’t always afforded to all employees. In addition to being called the wrong pronouns, some employees may also be referred to by a name or title, such as Ms. or Mr., that they do not identify with. However, some employees may wonder what rights they have regarding their preferred pronouns, name, and title in the workplace.

If you’re wondering if using the wrong pronouns can be a form of discrimination, our gender discrimination attorneys can help.

Can Misgendering Be Discrimination?

New York City employees may choose to utilize male or female pronouns regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth. This also includes gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them/theirs. 

Using the wrong pronouns or name to address an employee or coworker isn’t always illegal. In some cases, this can be an honest mistake that gets corrected, so using the wrong pronouns is not always considered discriminatory conduct. Additionally, asking someone in good faith what their preferred name, pronouns, and title isn’t discriminatory. 

Laws That Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination

Federal, state, and local laws do consider misgendering an employee to be illegal discrimination in some situations. 

    • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Discriminating against an employee based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, and transgender status are forms of sex-based discrimination, which is illegal under Title VII. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that “intentionally and repeatedly using the wrong name and pronouns to refer to a transgender employee could contribute to an unlawful hostile work environment.”
    • The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), an amendment of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s gender identity or expression, which it describes as “a person’s actual or perceived gender-related identity, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth, including, but not limited to, the status of being transgender.” Under GENDA, it is considered unlawful discrimination to refuse to use an employee’s requested name or pronouns. GENDA also states that New Yorkers have the right to use their requested names and titles regardless of their medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on their identification.
    • The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)gives NYC the right to use their preferred name, pronouns, and title, regardless of “the person’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the person’s identification.” Refusing to use a person’s preferred name, pronouns, and title is a violation of the NYCHRL. NYC employees also have the right to use their preferred name and pronouns regardless of whether or not they have a court-ordered name change under the NYCHRL. 

NYC Gender Discrimination Attorneys Who Can Help

Being referred to by the correct name, pronouns, and title is a level of respect that all New York City employees deserve and are entitled to, but not all receive. If you’re being discriminated against for your gender identity by others at work refusing to use the name and pronouns you request or any other way, you need a gender discrimination attorney who can help.

Contact Brown Kwon & Lam to find out how we can help you get the treatment you deserve.

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