A Federal Judge In Texas Just Handed Down a Landmark Ruling on Workplace Discrimination
One lawyer described the ruling as “earth-shattering — in a good way.”
Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that individuals have the right to file workplace discrimination cases on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in a case that could pave the way for greater rights for LGBTQ Texans.
This decision comes in the same state that in 2017 attempted to pass a controversial “bathroom bill” that would have prevented transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
"This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way,” lawyer Alfonso Kennard Jr. said in a statement.
The case was brought by Nicole Wittmer, a transgender woman, who said she was not hired at Phillips 66, an energy company, because of her gender identity, Dallas News reports.
While the judge, Lee Rosenthal, actually ruled against Wittmer’s particular claim — saying she could not prove she was not hired on account of gender identity — her ruling also indicated that Wittmer had cause to file her case under Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, on the basis of gender identity, according to The Hill.
This marks the first time a federal judge in the state of Texas, part of the Fifth Circuit for federal courts, has made such a ruling. Both the Second Circuit (New York, Vermont, and Connecticut) and the Seventh Circuit (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee) have already ruled that gender identity and sexual orientation constitute firm grounds for Title VII cases, in addition to gender, Advocate reports.
"Although the Fifth Circuit has not yet addressed the issue [of gender identity and sexual orientation], these very recent circuit cases are persuasive,” Rosenthal wrote. “The court assumes that Wittmer's status as a transgender woman places her under the protections of Title VII."
The Texas court decision doesn’t prohibit workplace discrimination on account of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity outright — Texas would need to pass a state law to do so — but it could give workplace discrimination victims greater legal protections in the future, according to the Dallas News report.
This could make a big difference for the estimated nine in 10 transgender Texans who have experienced discrimination at work, as well as the state’s estimated 770,000 LGBTQ adults and 158,500 LGBTQ youth.
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According to Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, the most recent ruling could be referenced in future workplace discrimination in Fifth Circuit court cases — potentially setting a precedent that could lead to a change in the state law.