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Transsexual's Sex Bias Claim Allowed

April 28, 2006
Related Topics: Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
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Danny Lee Mitchell, an employee of Axcan Scandipharm, was diagnosed with a gender identity disorder. After Mitchell was approved as a pre-operative transsexual and a candidate for sex reassignment surgery and "began to present in public as a female."

    Mitchell alleged that he was then subjected to harassment on the job at Axcan. After his involvement in an accident with a company car, he was terminated for misconduct.

    Following his termination, he filed suit in a U.S. district court against Axcan under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Pennsylvania law, alleging sex discrimination and hostile work environment because of his gender-related behavior. The company asked that the court dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Title VII did not protect transsexuals.

    Denying the company’s motion to dismiss the action, the district court found that neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has ruled on the issue. The district court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which the high court held that denial of partnership to a female employee who was not deemed "feminine enough" constituted unlawful sex stereotyping.

    In Mitchell’s case, the district court found that Mitchell alleged facts "showing that his failure to conform to sex stereotypes of how a man should look and behave was the catalyst" behind the company’s actions, thereby sufficiently pleading a claim under Title VII. The court said that Mitchell should be given the opportunity to state more clearly his discrimination claims based on sex stereotyping. Mitchell v. Axcan Scandipharm Inc., W.D. Pa., No. 05-243 (2/21/06).

    Impact: Courts continue to confront the issue of whether transsexuals are protected by Title VII. Since this is an area of the law that continues to evolve, employers are advised to carefully consider applicable federal and state laws and regulations in all cases.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management, April 24, 2006, p. 7 -- Subscribe Now!

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