A Federal Judge Just Made An Important Decision Concerning Job Discrimination in Texas

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If you thought that nationwide, all American citizens were protected from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity, you’d be wrong.

In the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which are run by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, no federal court has made employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. But, someone just got really close.

In Austin, Texas, an engineer by the name of Nicole Wittmer went through a case against energy company Phillips 66 who Wittmer says didn’t hire her because she’s transgender.

The end of that court case happened recently. Unfortunately, Wittmer didn’t win as the chief judge, Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District Court of Texas, says that Wittmer’s specific case didn’t have enough evidence.

That said, Rosenthal also said that if Wittmer’s case was stronger, she would have had cause to sue under federal law and the court would have ruled with the integrity to fight employment discrimination based on gender identity.

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"We're certainly disappointed that this particular ruling did not fall in her favor," Wittmer’s lawyer Alfonso Kennard Jr. told The Dallas Morning News. "The silver lining here is it has helped to define the landscape for people who have been discriminated [against] in the workplace due to their transgender status."

"This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way."

As for Rosenthal, who was appointed in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, she says that it was decisions made by other jurisdictions that has helped her come around the to idea of extending Title VII, which protects citizens from job discrimination based on sex, to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Within the last year, several circuits have expanded Title VII protection to include discrimination based on transgender status and sexual orientation," Rosenthal wrote. "Although the Fifth Circuit has not yet addressed the issue, these very recent circuit cases are persuasive. … The court assumes that Wittmer's status as a transgender woman places her under the protections of Title VII."

While this is a loss for Wittmer, this could be the start of a major win for LGBTQ workers in Texas (and maybe Louisiana and Mississippi too).

h/t: The Dallas Morning News

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