The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled in April that job discrimination against employees due to their gender identity is equivalent to sex discrimination under existing federal law.

Transgender advocates joined legal experts in calling the ruling a historic development that provides transgender people in the public and private sector workforce with full coverage under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“[W]e conclude that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because the person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on…sex,’ and such discrimination therefore violates Title VII,” said the commission in its 5-0 ruling.

The decision was handed down as part of its resolution of a case filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who charged that she was denied a job as a ballistics technician with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ lab in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Macy alleged that ATF officials were in the process of hiring her but claimed the job was no longer available due to budget cuts after she informed them she was transitioning from male to female. She learned later that ATF gave the job to someone else.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said it would be hard to overstate the significance of the EEOC decision.

“Transgender people already face tremendous rates of discrimination and unemployment,” Davis said. “The decision today ensures that every transgender person in the United States will have legal recourse to employment discrimination and with it a way to safeguard their access to vital employment benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings plans.”