U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

LGBT Workers Protected From Employment Discrimination, Even in Texas

The federal district court for the Southern District of Texas issued a ruling that could bring the state up to speed with many others. Judge Lee Rosenthal, while ruling against a transgender plaintiff, explained that LGBT employees are in fact protected under Title VII.

Although the plaintiff's attorney expressed disappointment at the ruling against his client, he believes the decision to be "earth-shattering" for the fact that a Texas federal court is recognizing LGBT protections under Title VII. Apparently, it is the first time a Texas court has recognized LGBT protections under Title VII.

Winning While Losing

For LGBT advocates, despite the case lose, the decision makes it rather clear that LGBT workers in the great state of Texas are in fact covered under Title VII. Unfortunately for the plaintiff though, the district court ruled on summary judgment that they did not even make their prima facie case. Furthermore, the court explained that even had a prima facie case been shown, the plaintiff failed to show any evidence to rebut the employer's valid business reason.

It's not too difficult to summarize the facts behind why the plaintiff lost: Nicole Wittmer sought a position at Phillips 66, and an offer was extended contingent on a background check. Significantly, during her interview, she stated that she was still employed by her former employer. However, during the background check, it was discovered that she had been terminated by her former employer just a few days prior to her interview. 

When confronted about the matter, she emailed over a copy of her termination letter which served to confirm the results of the background check, and confirm the fact that she lied during her interview. She then went on an email sending bender, sending emails to several employees at Phillips essentially alleging that she was being denied the position due to being transgender. Some messages even seemed to be veiled threats of litigation. Phillips rejected her claims, and eventually formally withdrew the offer of employment, as it explained, due to the discrepancy between her interview statement about being employed and the actual truth.

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