By Blake Neff
Calling a person “she” instead of “ze” could be grounds for a $250,000 fine in New York City under new civil rights guidelines published just before Christmas which ban the “misgendering” of individuals.
Discrimination based on gender identity has been illegal in New York since 2002, but last week the New York Commission on Human Rights released a new set of guidelines that specify the many ways one can violate the law. The guidelines apply to employment, housing, and public accommodations, though some exceptions exist for particularly small employers and for religious organizations.
New York officials claim the new policy makes it the most aggressive city in the country in terms of protecting the rights of the transgendered.
“New York has always been a diverse and welcoming city and our laws are designed to protect every New Yorker, regardless of their gender identity,” mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The commission’s detailed write-up of the new rule provides several examples of how a company could misgender somebody and thereby incur a hefty fine:
-Repeatedly referring to a person by something other than their chosen title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” The policy doesn’t explicitly say how gender-neutral titles such as “Mx.” should be treated, though it is implied such titles must be used if a person desires it.
-Refusing to call a person by their chosen pronoun. Said pronouns not only include “he” and “she,” but also explicitly include gender-neutral ones such as “ze/hir,” if that is what they desire.
-Requiring a person to legally change their name before using their preferred alternative. For example, company may not insist on calling an employee John if he prefers Jane, even if John is his legal name.
-Requiring a person to prove they have begun gender transition treatment before referring to them by alternative pronouns, names, and titles.
The new rules also apply to more than just issues of misgendering. The policy also requires all covered entities to let people use a bathroom and locker room consistent with their chosen gender identity, “regardless of their sex assigned at birth, anatomy, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on their identification.” Interestingly, the policy explicitly allows transgender individuals to use bathrooms of either gender, though this right is not given to others.
Other aspects of the policy include a ban on gender-specific dress codes (such as compelling men to wear a tie at a restaurant), and a requirement that company health plans cover gender-transition and gender-affirming care, such as hormone treatments, voice training, and surgery. The law defines such treatments as “necessary” and “life-saving.”
Ordinary violations of the guidelines can result in fines of up to $125,000, while offenses stemming from “willful, wanton, or malicious conduct” can incur fines of up to $250,000. In addition to these civil penalties, the commission may award an unlimited amount of compensatory damages to anybody deemed a victim of discrimination.
Officials estimated that New York has just over 25,000 transgender and intersex people living in the city.