By MICHAEL RISPOLI
Gannett State Bureau
When Jillian T. Weiss made the change from male to female back in 1998, she found it hard to get a job as a lawyer.
"People were unwilling to have me work with them when they could tell when I was transitioning," Weiss said.
Only able to get a job as a legal secretary, Weiss had to "go back" and work her way up. After getting a doctorate, Weiss now is an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College. Weiss says how she expresses her gender is a nonfactor with her students and co-workers.
Weiss said her experience beginning nearly a decade ago is similar to what many transgender people deal with in the work force. The state, however, is looking to end this type of workplace discrimination.
On Sunday, New Jersey became the sixth state to explicitly prohibit transgender discrimination. The change to the state's Law Against Discrimination adds "gender identity and expression" to the list of categories already protected against discrimination involving employment, along with public accommodation, contracts, housing, credit and union membership.
"What this is going to do is provide a push-in for people so they can start to get jobs," said Weiss, who conducts workshops with corporations and small businesses to teach workplace diversity. "Even though there will continue to be unemployment, they will find that it is going to relieve some of the frustrations they have that they can't get jobs at all."
New Jersey's law was signed in December, but didn't take effect for 180 days. It was enacted with wide support in the Legislature, 69-5 with six abstentions in the Assembly, and 31-5 and 33-3 in its two votes in the Senate.
Violators could face stiff penalties. The law allows for a pretrial investigation by the state Division on Civil Rights or a civil court hearing, and anything from a cease and desist order to compensation for the harmed party could be issued. Fines could also be handed out, from $10,000 for a first offense to $50,000 for multiple offenses.
Reach Michael Rispoli at firstname.lastname@example.org