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05 November 2010

Karen Ulane (1941 – 1989) pilot, florist.

Kenneth Ulane was born in Chicago. He learned to fly in 1959, and became a Licensed Pilot in 1964. From 1964-8 he flew a record number of combat mission for the US Army in Vietnam, for which he received a Air Medal with Eight Clusters. After leaving the army, he flew over 8,000 hours in Boeing 727s for Eastern Airlines, progressing from second to first officer, and served as a flight instructor. He also married and had a son.

Ulane was diagnosed as transsexual in 1979, and completed transition in 1980. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recertified Karen as a pilot. However Eastern fired her in 1981 citing possible safety hazards in stressful situations.

Karen sued in 1983. Richard Green argued for the plaintiff that she was a woman and under considerable less stress after reassignment. The psychiatrist for the defense argued that she was not a transsexual, but an operated transvestite. The Federal District Judge held that Ulane had been discriminated against as a woman, and ordered reinstatement and $158,590 in back pay and legal expenses, saying the 1964 Federal anti-discrimination law protects transsexuals. However, the Appeals Court in 1984 overruled. Ulane v. Eastern Airlines became the federal legal precedent for transsexual legal status under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that is it denied Title VII sex discrimination protection by narrowly interpreting "sex" discrimination as discrimination “against women". Ulane was discriminated against as a transsexual, not as a woman, and so was not covered under Title VII.
“Since Ulane was not discriminated against as a female, and since Title VII is not so expansive in scope as to prohibit discrimination against transsexuals, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand for entry of judgment in favor of Eastern on Count I and dismissal of Count II.”
The Supreme Court let that decision stand. Eastern then settled out-of-court for a larger amount but no reinstatement.

Karen opened a flower shop and an aviation equipment business in Aurora, Illinois. She and two passengers died in 1989 in the crash of a twin-propeller DC-3 in a field near Aurora.

Eastern Airlines went bankrupt in 1991.

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