The Employer's Legal Resource: Oklahoma City Jury Awards Transgender Professor $1.165 Million in Title VII Claim
We first told you about Dr. Rachel Tudor in our August 2015 newsletter. Tudor was a transgender English professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, who was denied tenure and ultimately terminated from her position. She sued the University under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was discriminated against and subject to a hostile work environment stemming from her transition in gender, and that the University later retaliated against her initial complaints about workplace discrimination.
Last month, the Western District of Oklahoma federal court denied the University's motion for summary judgment and the case was set to proceed to trial. The five-day jury trial concluded nearly two weeks ago. The jury found in favor of Tudor on her discrimination and retaliation claims and awarded her $1,165,000 in damages. But the jury rejected Tudor's claim that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment and found in favor of the University on that issue.
You may remember from other recent articles (here, here, and here) the debate about whether Title VII's protections include those on the basis of transgender status or sexual orientation on their own. Tudor did not address this specific issue. In fact, the judge's instructions to the jury explicitly stated that Title VII does not protect workers from discrimination becaus e they are transgender. Rather, the success of Tudor's claims depended upon whether "any wrongful action occurred because of her gender or because of a perception that [she] does not conform to a typical gender stereotype."
So, questions regarding the status and trajectory of LGBT rights continue. But the Tudor case is certainly notable. This is the first time a transgender employee's claim for sex discrimination under Title VII has gone to a jury. The substantial monetary verdict for the plaintiff from a jury of her peers in a conservative state such as Oklahoma is likely to draw attention across the country. But its ultimate impact remains to be seen. The Oklahoma Attorney General's office, which defended the case on behalf of the University, has since noted that "several legal issues" remain before the court and "decline[d] to comment until those legal issues are resolved." Thus, an appeal seems likely. As always, stay tuned.
By Rebecca D. Bullard, RBullard@dsda.com