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A Texas Federal Court Finds Title VII Protection for Transgender Employees

For the first time, a federal district court out of Texas has concluded that discrimination against employees based on their transgender status is a violation of Title VII.
Nicole Wittmer applied for and was offered a position as an Instrument and Reliability Engineer for Phillips 66 Company. Her offer of employment was subject to a background check. That background check revealed she had not been truthful regarding her current employment status. After learning of her failure to disclose the fact that she had been terminated, the company rescinded its job offer. Ms. Wittmer believed that her offer was withdrawn because of her transgender status and thus sued the company for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.
A district court located in the Southern District of Texas considered whether Title VII prohibited discrimination based on an employee’s transgender status. Looking to recent decisions out of the Second, Sixth, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the district court concluded that the “failure-to-conform stereotyping protection” included under sex discrimination has been expanded to include transgender persons. Noting that its own circuit court had yet to rule on the issue, it found the recent decisions regarding sexual orientation and transgender discrimination in the other circuits were persuasive because they were based on “long-recognized protections against gender- or sex-based stereotyping.” While Ms. Wittmer’s transgender status was protected, her case was dismissed because she failed to provide evidence that the decision to rescind her employment offer had anything to do with her transgender status or a failure to conform to sex stereotypes.