Employers, Discriminating Against Transgendered Persons is Not Okay: Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto Sales, LLC.

By: Chauna Pervis

On January 14, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a male-to-female transgender mechanic presented sufficient circumstantial evidence from which a jury could find that discriminatory animus towards her gender was a “motivating factor” in her termination.[1] To arrive at this ruling the court held that under Title VII there is more than one way to show discriminatory intent using circumstantial evidence.[2]

Title VII prevents employers from intentionally discriminating against employees based on any protected characteristic of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.[3] An employee may show that her employer discriminated against her because of her sex by using either direct or circumstantial evidence.[4] The Eleventh Circuit held that “there is more than one way to show discriminatory intent using . . . circumstantial evidence.”[5] The Court noted that one way is through the popular burden-shifting framework as derived in by the Supreme Court in McDonnell,[6] and the other way is the discriminatory intent and motivating factor test as set out by Eleventh Circuit in Hamilton.[7] The Court held that the plaintiff failed to establish a claim under the first test and went on to apply the facts to the second test.[8]

Under the second test, an employee may succeed on a Title VII claim by showing that in terminating the employee, the employer had discriminatory intent and such intent was a motivating factor in the termination.[9] The court noted that 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m) as applied to Title VII provides that once a plaintiff presents evidence of discriminatory intent, if she can show that such intent was a motivating factor in her termination, she may succeed on her claim even if other (nondiscriminatory) factors motivated her termination.[10]

In the present case, the employer, Credit Nation Auto Sales, LLC (Credit Nation), had a “Progressive Discipline” policy detailing a four-step procedure for employee discipline and the employee, Chavez, claimed that by firing her immediately after it caught her sleeping on the job, Credit Nation failed to comply with this procedure due to her transgendered status.[11] Dismissing Credit Nation’s argument that Chavez must show pretext to support a Title VII claim[12], the Eleventh Circuit concluded that triable issues of fact existed with respect to Credit Union’s discriminatory intent and whether gender bias was a motivating factor in Chavez’s termination since Credit Union did not follow its discipline policy with respect to Chavez’s termination.[13]

Business owners have the right to run their business how they see fit; however, this cannot include discriminating against people based on their sex, including discriminating against transgendered persons. Employers must remove their personal bias against transgendered persons in the workplace, or pay the price. In a landmark Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) case, the EEOC held that Title VII prevents employers from discriminating against a person due to being transgender.[14] Since then, several courts, including the court in this case, have recognized discrimination against transgender individuals as a cognizable claim of sex discrimination under Title VII.[15] As a result, employers have known of the detrimental effects of discriminating against transgender persons for years. Nonetheless, employers continued to do so.[16]

To avoid future liability, businesses must realize that transgendered persons are protected against employment discrimination under Title VII. As such, businesses may incur extra costs in its attempt to achieve Title VII compliance. This might include spending a significant amount of capital on training staff members on nondiscrimination laws and polices, and designing and operating programs to ensure workplace diversity.[17]

Although a business may expend money integrating transgendered persons into the workplace, it may also procure benefits from doing so. For example, with transgendered persons in its workplace, a business can not only fulfill diversity and inclusion initiatives, but also attract and retain the people who are most qualified for particular jobs.[18] Accordingly, rulings like the one in the present case may not only result in benefits for transgendered persons in the workplace, but also for businesses that employ transgendered persons.

[1] See generally Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto Sales, LLC, No 14-14596, 2016 WL 158820, at *1 (11th Cir. Jan. 14, 2016).

[2] Id. at *2.

[3] Id. at *1.

[4] See id. (holding that direct evidence includes only “the most blatant remarks whose intent could mean nothing other than to discriminate”).

[5] Id. at *2.

[6] Id. at *2-3 (citing McDonell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973)) (holding that an employee must first make out a prima facie case of intent to discriminate and if it gives rise to an inference or presumption to discriminate, then the employer must articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for doing so, and if he does then the employee must prove that the given reason is Pretextual to succeed on his claim).

[7] Id. at *2.

[8] Id. at *3-4.

[9] Id. at *4.

[10] Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 20002e-2(m)(2012)).

[11] Id. at *8.

[12] Id. at *6.

[13] Id. at *9.

[14] Macy v. Holder, No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (E.E.O.C. Apr. 20, 2012).

[15] See Finkle v. Howard Cty., 12 F. Supp. 3d 780, 788 (D. Md. 2014).

[16] E.E.O.C. v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., Case No. 14-13710, 2015 WL 7567503, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 25, 2015) (holding that an employee may have a potential Title VII claim where his employer terminated him for failure to conform to sex stereotypes);

[17] Anastasia Niedrich, Removing Categorical Constraints on Equal Employment Opportunities and Ant-Discrimination Protections, 18 Mich. J. Gender & L. 25, 71 (2011).

[18] Teresa A. Daniel, Managing Gender Transition in the Workplace, Soc’y Human Res. Mgmt. (Dec. 16, 2013), http://www.shrm.org/templatestools/toolkits/pages/managinggendertransitionintheworkplace.aspx.

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