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James Tarquin, P.A
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Federal Court Rules That Title VII Protects Transgender Individuals From Discrimination Based On Their Transgender Status

The transgender person

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from discrimination because of sex.  In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court held that unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination against employees for failure to conform to sex or gender stereotypes.  As the Price Waterhouse Court explained, “we are beyond the day when an employer [can] evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they match[ ] the stereotype associated with their group, for in forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.”  Since Price Waterhouse, courts have consistently recognized that an employee can satisfy Title VII’s because of sex requirement with evidence of his or her perceived failure to conform to traditional sex or gender stereotypes. 

Until recently, as observed by the U.S District Court for the Western District of Texas in Eure v. Sage Corp., 61 F.Supp.3d 651 (W.D. Tex. 2014), “courts have been reluctant to extend the sex stereotyping theory to cover circumstances where the [employee] is discriminated against because of the [employee’s] status as a transgender man or woman[.]”  In fact, as the decision by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Etsitty v. Utah Transit Auth., 502 F.3d 1215 (10th Cir. 2007) illustrates, courts customarily held that “discrimination against a transsexual because [he or] she is a transsexual is not discrimination because of sex.”

However, in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, No. 2018 WL 177669 (6th Cir. Mar. 7, 2018), the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appellate court to squarely hold that “discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status violates Title VII.”  In support of its holding, the Sixth Circuit reasoned that “discrimination against transgender persons necessarily implicates Title VII’s proscriptions against sex stereotyping” because “a transgender person is someone who fails to act and/or identify with his or her gender.”  Adopting the Sixth Circuit’s holding in Harris Funeral Homes, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Wittmer v. Phillips 66 Company, No. 17-2188 (S.D. Tex. April 4, 2018) also found that Title VII protects transgender individuals from discrimination based on their status as a transgender man or woman.

Transgender Woman Seeks Title VII Protection

In that case, Nicole Wittmer (Wittmer), a transgender woman, claimed that Phillips 66 Company (Phillips) violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination by rescinding a job offer it had made because of her transgender status.  Phillips maintained that the job offer was withdrawn because Wittmer misrepresented her employment status during interview at Phillips.

On May 31, 2015, Wittmer applied for a position as an Instrument and Reliability Engineer at Phillips.  On August 3, 2015, Wittmer interviewed for the position.  During the interview, Wittmer represented that she was presently employed by a company named Agrium.  On August 10, 2015, Phillips offered Wittmer the position.  However, the offer was conditioned on certain requirements, including satisfactory results of a background check.  On August 14, 2015, Wittmer accepted the offer.  Later that month, Phillips received a background check report which reflected that Wittmer was not currently employed with Agrium on August 3, 2015, the date of her interview with Phillips.

On September 8, 2015, Phillips decided to rescind Wittmer’s job offer because her employment with Agrium had already ceased at the time of her interview at Phillips.  Two days later, Wittmer sent Phillips an email notifying the company of her transgender status.  On September 14, 2015, Phillips formally notified Wittmer of the decision to rescind the job offer because she was not “forthright” about her employment status with Agrium.  Wittmer claimed that Phillips rescinded her job offer based on her identity as a transgender woman which constituted a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII.

  Phillips filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Wittmer’s sex discrimination claim.  In doing so, Phillips asked the trial court to find that Wittmer’s sex discrimination claim was failed as a matter of law and Wittmer could not present her case to a jury for resolution. 

Court Persuaded By Decisions Protecting Transgender Individuals

At the outset of its opinion, the trial court explained that a threshold issue was whether discrimination against an individual on the basis of his or her status as a transsexual constitutes discrimination because of sex prohibited by Title VII.  In resolving this issue, the trial court noted that several federal appellate courts have recently “expanded Title VII protection to include discrimination based on transgender status and sexual orientation.”  The trial court also pointed out that the Sixth Circuit in Harris Funeral Homes expanded the failure to conform stereotyping protection from Price Waterhouse to include transgender individuals by holding that ” ‘discrimination against transgender persons necessarily implicates Title VII’s proscriptions against sexual stereotyping.’ “  Finding these “very recent” federal appellate court cases “persuasive,” the trial court determined that “Wittmer’s status as a transgender woman places her under the protection of Title VII.”   

Although the trial court ruled that Title VII protects transgender individuals from discrimination based on their transgender status, the trial court nonetheless dismissed Wittmer’s sex discrimination claim.  In doing so, the trial court found that the evidence reflected that Wittmer knew her employment with Agrium had ended before she interviewed at Phillips.  Thus, the trial court concluded, Phillips had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for rescinding the job offer.  The trial court also pointed out that Phillips made the decision to rescind Wittmer’s job offer several days before Wittmer informed the company of her transgender status.  Thus, the trial court reasoned, there was no evidence that Wittmer’s transgender status “motivated Phillips’ decision to rescind the offer.”

Free Consultation With Citrus County Sex Discrimination Lawyers 

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have substantial experience litigating sex discrimination claims.  If you have been the victim of gender discrimination or have questions about your protection against discrimination based on your transgender status, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Citrus Florida sex discrimination attorneys.  Our employee rights law firm takes gender discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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