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August 25, 2008

Summary Judgment Granted in Transsexual Workplace Discrimination Case

The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted summary judgment for ATP Health & Beauty Care, Inc. on Aug. 18, 2008.  Morales v. ATP Health & Beauty Care, Inc., Civ. No. 3:06CV01430 (D. Conn. Aug. 18, 2008).  In this case, a male-to-female transsexual employee named Yvonne Morales sued her employer alleging disparate treatment, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under Title VII as well as a violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Id. at 1. 

As to the disparate treatment and retaliation claims, the court found that Morales could not show a nexus between any allegedly discriminatory conduct by her employer and the decision to fire her.  Id. at 15.  The court noted that she was fired due to absenteeism from work--a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for her termination.  Id.

The court recognizes that a transsexual may bring a gender-stereotype claim for sex-based discrimination, and found that part of her claim fit into the "failure to conform to gender stereotype" camp.  Id. at 19.  However, the court granted the motion for summary judgment because the harassment was not sufficiently "severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment."  Id. at 21.

It did seem that there were many things going on in the facts here.  Basically, her first boss was yelling at her and calling her epithets.  She complained to HR and was transferred.  Her new boss made gender specific comments, but not very many of them.  She also participated in some of the "rowdiness" around the office, which didn't help her case at all.  And, the fact that she was late to work or missed work without calling her boss also hurt the case.  Id. at 1-8. 

Also, Morales did complain numerous times to HR about the alleged harassment, but she did not complain to HR (part of the company's policies on harassment) after she was transferred and her new boss harassed her on the basis of her gender.  So, the court found that the company could establish an Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense.  Id. at 28. 

Lessons from this case:  follow HR procedures, don't give your boss a "reason" to fire you, and do not participate in silly behavior in the office--all of these things will hurt your case if you pursue a discrimination claim later.

August 25, 2008 | Permalink

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