Court allows transgender mechanic's bias claims to proceed

The federal appeals court in Atlanta has allowed a transgender woman's discrimination claims to proceed to trial against an Austell car company.

Jennifer Chavez was hired in June 2008 by Credit Nation Auto Sales as a mechanic at its garage in Cobb County. She was never disciplined before she announced her gender transition in October 2009. She was fired on Jan. 11, 2010, for "sleeping while on the clock on company time."

Credit: Bill Rankin

Credit: Bill Rankin

In a Jan. 14 opinion, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the auto company did not use sleeping on the job as a pretext for firing Chavez because she was transgender. The court noted that Chavez admitted to sleeping on one occasion and that another employee had been fired for doing the same thing.

But the court said Chavez presented "plenty" of circumstantial evidence to support her discrimination claim and that her gender was a motivating factor in her being fired.

For example, the court noted, Chavez said the company president told her not to bring up her transgender status and not to wear a dress to and from work. The company's vice president also told her to "tone it down" and not talk as much about her gender transition, Chavez said.

After her transition, Chavez said, she was no longer allowed to use a unisex customer bathroom that other female employees were allowed to use. She also claimed that the company deviated from its normal disciplinary process when taking steps to terminate her.

In its opinion, the 11th Circuit said that, taking into consideration all the evidence and viewing it in a light most favorable to Chavez, it wasdenying Credit Nation's request to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds of discrimination and whether gender bias played a motivating role in Chavez's firing.

"This is an important victory for transgender employees, but most importantly for our brave client, Jennifer Chavez," the woman's lawyer, Jillian Weiss, said.

Credit: Bill Rankin

Credit: Bill Rankin

"After six long years of ongoing legal proceedings, we are thrilled that this case will finally go to trial," Weiss said. "No one deserves to be fired for being who they are and this ruling ensures that we can make our case before a jury once and for all."

Marc Celello, an attorney for Credit Nation, said the company will reserve comment on the merits of the case pending its final resolution.