Massachusetts’ Gender Identity Law Goes Into Effect July 1, 2012

By Katherine Crawford

Massachusetts employers take note: Massachusetts’ Transgender Equal Rights Bill, signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in November, goes into effect on July 1, 2012.

Massachusetts is the 16th U.S. state, along with Washington, D.C., to offer transgendered individuals protection from discrimination, although the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has taken the position for years that transgendered individuals are protected under the definition of “sex” as a protected class.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, as well as housing, credit, and education. Massachusetts’ existing state anti-discrimination law, Chapter 151B, is amended to include “gender identity” as a protected category. Chapter 151B applies to public employers and private employers with six or more employees.

The statute defines “gender identity” broadly as:

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A person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”

In addition to protecting individuals who have undergone, or are seeking, sex reassignment surgery, the law also protects individuals who have a sincerely held belief that their gender identity is different from that received at birth. The law does not provide any insight into what characteristics of an individual’s identity are “gender-related.”

If you have not done so already, you should update your policies, handbooks, and harassment training to reflect this additional protected category. You should also consider training your managers about gender identity discrimination.

This was originally published on Fisher & Phillips’ Legal AlertsThis Legal Alert is intended to provide an overview of an important new law. It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.

Katie Crawford is an associate in the Boston office of the law firm Fisher & Phillips. Her practice includes representing employers in a broad range of employment and labor-related litigation in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies, such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations. Contact her at


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