Two Georgia women, who lost their jobs and subsequently launched Title VII sex discrimination cases against their former employers, ultimately took their cases all the way to the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to defend their positions. These two cases, one of which was decided in mid-January and one of which remains pending, offer some important insight into the state of federal sex discrimination law and the changes that could soon take place.
The recently decided case involved an auto mechanic from Cobb County. When Credit Nation Auto Sales hired the mechanic, the mechanic identified publicly as a man named Louie Chavez. In 2009, Chavez began transitioning from male to female and began going by the name Jennifer Chavez. Chavez’s supervisor expressed unease about the mechanic’s decision, fearing that the mechanic would negatively affect business.
About seven weeks after this conversation, the employer fired Chavez. Credit Nation fired the mechanic on the grounds that she slept in a repair customer’s car,. The mechanic sued and lost at the trial court level, where the court awarded a summary judgment to the employer. The trial court noted that Chavez undisputedly slept while “on the clock,” and Credit Nation fired another employee for a similar offense. In the end, the trial court decided that the employee lacked the necessary evidence to show that the employer fired her for anything other than a valid, non-discriminatory reason.
The 11th Circuit reversed that ruling. The appeals court concluded that Chavez had enough evidence at least to proceed to trial on her case. Credit Nation had included several violations of company rules that its handbook listed as grounds for immediate termination, but sleeping on the job wasn’t one of them. Chavez’s evidence showed that, although she had an impeccable work record with no history of previous issues, she found herself facing severe discipline very shortly after announcing her transition process. This, the 11th Circuit determined, was enough to force a trial on the issue of whether Credit Nation held a “discriminatory animus” against her, and that antipathy was a motivating factor in her firing.
Another case that the 11th Circuit has not yet decided may have even more sweeping ramifications. In that case, Jameka Evans, a security guard, sued her former employer, Georgia Regional Hospital, for sex discrimination. Evans, who was a security guard for the Savannah hospital, accused the employer of firing her for her appearance. Evans was a lesbian who wore clothes and hairstyles stereotypically identified as male.
The trial court dismissed the guard’s complaint, concluding that Evans’ case amounted to a claim of sexual orientation discrimination, and Title VII does not include sexual orientation as a class protected by that law. In her appeal, Evans argued that the trial court improperly failed to consider existing 11th Circuit decisions, such as 2011’s Glenn v. Brumby ruling, which clearly state that discriminating against an employee because the employee’s appearance does not conform to a particular gender stereotype does qualify as sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.
Under current 11th Circuit precedent, a transgender person, like the employee in the Chavez case, along with workers with gender-atypical appearances, like the employee in the Evans case, have a plausible basis for a Title VII case, since cases like Glenn have clearly stated that discrimination based upon a gender-atypical appearance is impermissible. A homosexual employee without a gender-atypical appearance (i.e., a stereotypically masculine gay man or a stereotypically feminine lesbian) might face a much harder road to success in court.
The Evans case could change that. Both Evans’ lawyers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have argued, in briefs presented to the appeals court, that Title VII actually prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation in all circumstances. Evans argues that existing Title VII rulings, which prohibit an employer from having one policy for men and another for women, should apply to an employer who takes a negative employment action against a female employee who dates or marries a woman while taking no such action against male employees who date or marry women.
Regardless of the outcome in the Evans case, that decision and the one in Chavez are a reminder to both employers and employees that the issues of employment discrimination law with regard to transgender and homosexual employees are changing, and employers in particular should prepare themselves for potential changes in the law that may occur. Whether you are an employee or an employer, the knowledgeable Georgia sexual orientation discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help you understand what the law requires, and what possible changes in the law could mean for you.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.
More blog posts:
New Transgender Discrimination Case Could Have Impact on Tennessee Employers, Employees, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Nov. 4, 2015
Georgia City’s First Female Warden Loses Jail Post, Then Loses Gender Discrimination Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 21, 2015