Consider this: A person applies for a job at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives as a ballistics forensic technician, is well-qualified for the position, and is offered the job. She then tells ATF that she is transitioning from male to female. A few days later, she’s told the job has been cut for budget reasons. And then she learns that the job hasn’t been cut, it’s simply been given to someone else, who isn’t transgender.

ATF wanted to hire her when it thought she was a man, but not when it realized she was a woman. Sounds like a clear case of sex discrimination, right? But back in the 1980s, several courts ruled that the federal ban on sex discrimination doesn’t cover transgender people. Since then, most of our efforts to secure workplace fairness protections for transgender people have focused on passing laws that explicitly cover gender identity or expression. At the state level we’re making decent progress – 16 states now ban employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression (and 21 states ban sexual orientation discrimination). But at the federal level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would cover sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, has not gotten enough traction on Capitol Hill to pass in Congress.

Some LGBT rights advocates, including us here at the ACLU, didn’t give up on the sex discrimination argument, however, and in the last few years we’re starting to make real progress. That progress got a huge boost this week, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing the nation’s workplace nondiscrimination laws, released an amazing decision that makes a profound contribution to equality for transgender people all across America. In the case about that ATF applicant, the EEOC followed common sense and declared that discrimination against transgender people violates the existing federal ban on sex discrimination in employment, repudiating the earlier decisions. It’s about time!