Legal

Appellate Court Reinstates Sex-Discrimination Claim of Transgendered Worker

By Jon Hyman

Jan. 20, 2016

A federal appellate court reinstated the sex-discrimination claim of a transgender auto mechanic. Credit Nation Auto Sales fired Jennifer Chavez less than three months after she notified it of her gender transition.

The employer argued that it fired her because it caught her sleeping in a customer’s vehicle while on the clock. Even though the court concluded that the employer’s reason was “true and legitimate”, it nevertheless reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the sex-discrimination claim.

Relying on a mixed-motive analysis, the court, in Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto Sales [pdf], concluded that Chavez had presented enough evidence that her gender was a “motivating factor” in the termination decision such that a jury should decide her claim.

What was the evidence on which the court relied?

  • That the company’s president subjected her performance to more scrutiny and criticism after she announced her gender transition.
  • Statements by the company’s president that he was “very nervous” about Chavez’s transition, and that he believed it would “negatively impact his business.”
  • The company’s president telling Chavez “not to wear a dress back and forth to work” because it would be “disruptive”.
  • Other company officers expressing concern over Chavez’s use of a unisex bathroom.
While this case may look like a run of the mill sex-discrimination case, it is emblematic of a deeper trend. In the coming years, more transgender employees will enter your workplace. You need to be vigilant in not making comments about their appearance, and otherwise not allowing conscious or unconscious biases to pervade your decisions about these employees.
Because more and more courts are accepting transgender-discrimination claims under Title VII’s sex-discrimination prohibitions, and because Title VII permits mixed-motive discrimination claim, these comments or (un)conscious biases could undermine an otherwise legitimate termination, as was the case in Chavez.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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