Not Hiring Transgender Person Might be Sex Discrimination Under Title VII

On April 10, 2014, the United States Court for the District of Maryland denied the Defensdants’ Motion for Dismissal or Summary Judgment in Finkle v. Howard County, Maryland. The Plaintiff in that case, a retired Sargeant of the United States Capitol Police argues that she was not hired as a Volunteer Mounted Patrol Auxiliary Police Officer “because of her obvious transgendered status.”

The Defendants’ Motion consisted of three arguments: first, that the position Finkle was denied was a volunteer position and thus not covered by Title VII or corresponding local regulations; second, that the Plaintiff failed to state a claim for discrimination based on sex under Title VII; and third, that the Plaintiff provided insufficient facts to support a prima facie case for discrimination.

Regarding the Defendants’ first argument, the Judge begain by acknowledging that “at first blush it may seem that a volunteer, i.e. one who does not receive wages or a salary, is not in an employment relationship,” and that “the text of Title VII is not particularly helpful in addressing this issue.” However, citing Haavistola v. Community Fire Co. of Rising Sun, Inc., the Court went on to conclude that an employment relationship can also be established by the conferral of benefits which offer “indirect but significant remuneration.” In this case, the Plaintiff would have received remuneration for her volunteer position in the form of “signficant benefits available upon injury or death,” including “state-funded disability pension, survivors’ benefits for dependents; scholarships for dependents upon disability or death…group life insurance…and coverage under Maryland Workers Compensation.” The Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s receipt of these benefits was not “insufficient to bring her under the ambit of Title VII.”

The Defendants’ second argument was that the Plaintiff’s complaint is cognizable as a claim of sex discrimintion under Title VII, (roughly) because she was purportedly discriminated against as a transgendered person and not as a female. However, the Court noted that the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the 1998 case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins implies that “Title VII’s reference to ‘sex’ encompasses both the biological differences between men and women, and gender discrimination, that is, discrimination based on a failure to conform to stereotypical gender norms.” In short, the Defendant’s argument assumes an outdated interpretation of the legal concept “sex discrimination”; since the Price Waterhouse decision, claims of discrimination based on gender stereotypes are properly treated as sex discrimination claims under Title VII.

Finally, concerning the Defendants’ third argument, the Court concluded that the Plaintiff had brought a plausible prima facie case of sex discrimination. Specifically, the Plaintiff offered evidence that she is well-qualified for the position for which she applied, and that she had been given various pretextual reasons for not being offered the position. She was told by the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) that they “would not accept any retired police officr for the position,” and that she was “overqualified” and “lived too far away.” She later learned that another retired police officer had been selected for the position, as well as two other persons both of whom lived a greater distance than she from Howard County. The Plaintiff’s claim was therefore “sufficiently well-pleaded to survive the present motion to dismiss.”

Ms. Finkle can now make her case that Howard County denied her an employment opportunity on the basis of her transgender status, which is now defined clearly as sex discrimination under Title VII.

If you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination based on your sex (or gender), please contact The Harman Firm, LLP