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Values at Work

Kim Yuracko, law, seeks to explain the legal and cultural phenomena behind courts' dramatic expansion of the concept of sex discrimination in employment. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned sex discrimination in employment, its target was clear: to end women's exclusion from particular jobs and to challenge their regulation to a "pink collar" ghetto.

In recent years, courts have interpreted Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination increasingly expansive ways. Not only are workers protected from discrimination based on their biological sex, they are increasingly protected from discrimination based on how they express their gender identity. Men perceived as inappropriately masculine, and transsexuals are winning protection against workplace demands that they conform to the dominant social norms of their sex. Yuracko examines the values, beliefs, and principles that are motivating these changes and explores their implications for antidiscrimination law, workplace equality, and social conceptions of gender more broadly.

Her current research reveals the difficulty in attributing recent coverage expansions to a heightened or renewed commitment to Title VII's core antidiscrimination values—namely, neutrality, and antisubordination. Indeed, courts' commitment to such values in sex discrimination cases has been and continues to be more limited and constrained than generally recognized.

Instead, Yuracko shows that current expansions in sex discrimination protection flow most directly from a new medicalization of gender in the courts. Critical to the victories of gender nonconformists has been the introduction of evidence regarding gender identity disorder. Such evidence serves to medicalize not only a particular gender disorder but masculinity and feminity more generally—and to define both in static, binary, and highly stereotyped terms. The result, paradoxically, is that new protections for individual gender nonconformists may be achieved at the expense of a subtle hardening of gender expectations for everyone else.

This article originally appeared in the Office for Research 2012 Annual Report.

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