In Unprecedented Ruling, Israeli Court Prohibits Discrimination of Trangender Employees

Labor Court rules that NGO must compensate transgender employee fired for discussing her sexuality, setting a precedent.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Marina Meshel
Marina MeshelCredit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

In a precedent-setting verdict last week, the National Labor Court ruled that the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender or sexual preference, also applies to gender identity. Because the law does not relate specifically to transgender individuals, court rulings on the matter have so far not been clear-cut.

The court made its ruling in a suit brought by Marina Meshel, a transgender lesbian who was dismissed from her work as a math tutor at the Center for Educational Technology NGO. Meshel, 31, who lives in Petah Tikva, worked with high-school students online, preparing them for their matriculation exams. About two years ago she was summoned to a hearing and accused of discussing sexuality and sexual preference with Orthodox female students. She was fired after she refused to pledge not to reveal her gender identity and preference to students. Meshel then sued the center for discrimination.

About a year ago, the Tel Aviv Labor Court ruled in favor of the center, which argued that Meshel had been dismissed because she refused to stop incorporating content that was not connected to math in her lessons. Judge Idit Itzcovich Shachar, who delivered the minority opinion, said that the center had not proven that it had not discriminated against Meshel. Itzcovich Shachar also said that concerns over Meshel’s supposed attempts to advance an agenda were influenced by stereotypes because she is transgender and a lesbian.

The National Labor Court panel, headed by Judge Yigal Plitman, approved a compromise under which the Center for Educational Technology would pay Meshel 20,000 shekels (about $5,100) to cover the period of her contract with the center. “This court does indeed believe that on the face of it discrimination based on sexual preference according to Article 2 of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law includes discrimination based on gender identity,” the verdict said.

“It was very important to me that the message be conveyed that although it doesn’t appear in the law and we haven’t corrected it, this is a protected category and such discrimination is prohibited, if it was not clear. It’s a matter of principle,” Meshel told Haaretz.

Meshel said this was not the first time that she had suffered discrimination because she is a transgender individual. “Usually when I come for interviews they would start rolling their eyes and giving all sorts of excuses, ‘we don’t need anyone,’ or ‘we found somebody already,’ but this is the first time it was so obvious,” she said.

Meshel added that she frequently deals with discrimination. “In some places I feel less discriminated against and in some places, more. At university I don’t feel it at all, but [I do feel it] many times in the market or on public transportation with strangers who don’t know me.

Meshel recently took the Dan bus company to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, because a Dan driver insisted on speaking to her using the male form of address in Hebrew and after she corrected him he ridiculed and humiliated her for the rest of the ride. The driver admitted to the charges, expressed remorse and was reprimanded by the company, but he was not dismissed.

“The outcome was the right one, although the verdict was a compromise,” attorney Hadar Peled-Tal, who represented Meshel, said. “Of all the LGBT community, transgender individuals are the most discriminated against. The very fact of raising awareness of discrimination against the transgender community is important. I very much hope that this case will open the door for other transgender people to stand up for their rights.”

The first survey of its kind in Israel, carried out by the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities in early 2014, found that 80 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination of some kind in the employment market. Despite these figures, two bills in the previous Knesset to stop transgender discrimination were shelved. The bill proposed by MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) to add a ban on discrimination based on gender identity to the law was struck down in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation due to opposition from Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid.

The latter party said at the time that it had opposed the bill because Yesh Atid’s faction chairman, MK Ofer Shelah, was advancing a broader bill. Shelah’s bill amending the law to include discrimination based on gender identity or sexual preference was passed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation in December 2013 and sent to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, but it was never discussed there.

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