What Men and Women Should Look Like: Rosa v. Park West Bank
In a precedent-setting decision with major implications for the business community, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit confirmed that sex discrimination laws reach situations where individuals are discriminated against because of their failure to conform to stereotypes of how men and women are supposed to look and act. In June 2000, the federal court decided that a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in lending protects our client, Lucas Rosa—a transgender person who appears female but was assigned the sex designation of male at birth—who was told when applying for a bank loan to go home and change to appear more traditionally masculine.
GLAD brought suit on behalf of our client under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act as well as under Massachusetts laws prohibiting discrimination because of sex and perceived sexual orientation in lending and public accommodations. In a decision that took just three weeks to issue, the Federal Appeals Court overturned the ruling of a federal district judge, and ruled that our client may be able to prove a case of sex discrimination and remanded the case for trial.
This case has tremendous significance for both GLB people and those who are transgender because the root of much of our shared oppression is the enforcement of stereotypical notions of how “real men” and “real women” should look and act. This case creates a key legal building block for arguing that discrimination because of a person’s failure to meet widely shared normative beliefs about gender—whether that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender—is prohibited sex discrimination.