Texas: Transgender Employee Not Protected From Discrimination Under Title VII

By SHRM Online staff Jan 5, 2015
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A Texas federal court found that a transgender employee was not protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because she failed to show that the discrimination was motivated by her failure to act like a stereotypical woman.

Sage Corporation owned and operated truck driving schools. In December 2010, Loretta Eure, who was assigned female at birth and presents as male, began working as a truck-driving instructor at Sage’s San Antonio location. Eure reported to San Antonio School Director Margie Brandon, Western Regional Director Barbara Blake, and President Gregg Aversa as her supervisors.

At the beginning of her employment, Eure claimed that she received insufficient training because her trainer, Noel Smith only permitted her to shadow him for 24 hours. Eure also claimed that Smith subjected her to “sarcasm and innuendos,” in which Smith complained about having to instruct Eure and expressed his desire to work in Brandons supervisory role. Eure reported these comments to Brandon. In addition, in March 2011, Carmela Campanian, a national project director for Sage, arrived at the San Antonio campus to conduct specialized training. Campanian criticized Brandon for hiring Eure, stating that Sage did not hire “cross genders.” Campanian asked Brandon if she understood the severity of the consequences for hiring a transgender instructor and removed Eure from the instructor schedule.

Additionally, Campanian informed Eure that she could not use a particular truck with her student, so Eure proceeded with the students lesson in a different truck. After Eure returned from the lesson, she met with Campanian. Eure alleged that Campanian said “Ive never had to deal with something like this.” In response, Eure asked, “What do you mean? Because Im gay?” Eure alleged that Campanian paused and then said that Eure was insubordinate.

Eure complained to Brandon and Aversa. On April 4, 2011, Eure submitted a charge of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Aversa asked Eure to consider returning to work and assured Eure that he planned to investigate the incident further. Eure never returned to work.

Eure filed a complaint, naming Sage as the sole defendant, claiming gender discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act; wrongful termination and retaliation under Title VII and Section 1981; and negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention. Sage moved for summary judgment.

Noting that Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of “sex,” the court explained that it is well-established that an employee can satisfy Title VIIs “because-of-sex” requirement with evidence of a employee’s perceived failure to conform to traditional gender stereotypes.

The trial court stated that in some cases, employees bringing successful sex stereotyping claims are transgender people, arguing that the discrimination that they have suffered is because their coworkers perceived their behavior or appearance as not “masculine or feminine enough.” However, courts have been reluctant to extend the sex stereotyping theory to cover circumstances where an employee is discriminated against because his or her status as a transgender man or woman, without any additional evidence related to gender stereotype non-conformity.

All of the testimony that Eure presented that related to Campanian’s animus couched Campanians alleged discrimination in terms specifically related to Eures status as a transgender person, not in terms related to her conformance with gender stereotypes.

Because Eure failed to present evidence showing that the discrimination was motivated by her failure to act like a stereotypical woman, court found that Eure failed to a make gender stereotyping claim and, therefore, failed to show that the discrimination or hostile work environment claim that she presents is “because of sex,” as Title VII requires. Therefore, the court granted Sage’s motion for summary judgment on the discrimination and hostile work environment claims. The court also granted summary judgment on the claims for wrongful termination and retaliation; and negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention.

Eure v. Sage Corp., W.D. Texas, No. 5:12-cv-01119-DAE, (Nov. 19, 2014).

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