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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Monday, January 25, 2016

11th Circuit Allows Trans Discrimination Case to Move Forward

On January 14, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled, in Chavez v. Credit Nation Auto Sales, LLC, that the employment discrimination case of Jennifer Chavez, can move forward. The case had been dismissed by the District Court because that Court felt there was insufficient evidence of discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit ruling reverses the District Court opinion in part, holding that there was sufficient evidence of discrimination for the case to be heard by a jury. Ms. Chavez was represented by Jillian Weiss and Ezra Young of the Law Office of Jillian T. Weiss, P.C. The opinion may be read here.

The appeals court based its ruling on the proper standard for so-called “mixed-motive” cases. These are cases in which the plaintiff admits that the reason for termination given by the employer is true, but that bias also was a motivating factor in the decision. The Court has said that the plaintiff must show that the reason for termination given by the employer is a pretext, an excuse, for the real, discriminatory reason. This requires showing that the employer’s reason is false. We argued that, as other courts of appeal have said, it makes no sense to require this in mixed motive cases. After all, in mixed motive cases, the plaintiff admits the employer’s reason for termination. To require the plaintiff to show the reason is false, while admitting it is true, makes little sense. Rather, the only question should be whether there is enough evidence to show there is also bias as a motivating factor. In this case, we argued there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence showing bias as a motivating factor, and the appeals court agreed. The case goes back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia for trial.

This opinion is also important because it sets out some of the types of evidence that a transgender person may cite as discrimination by a decision-maker, such as complaints about potential negative business impact of gender transition, restrictions on gender-appropriate dress, and write-ups for opposing gender-based harassment.This is an important victory for transgender employees, but most importantly for our brave client, Jennifer Chavez, who had to endure the initial discrimination, refusal by the EEOC on two separate occasions to take her complaint, being told it was too late on the third occasion, a ruling against her on summary judgment, and years of legal proceedings. (To its credit, the EEOC acknowledged its error, and filed an amicus brief in support of Ms. Chavez on the equitable tolling issue in the District Court.)

To hear the audio of the oral argument before the Court, click here. For a summary of the case, click here. To see the brief to the Court, click here. (Also see Appellee’s Brief and Appellant’s Reply Brief)

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