A transgender engineer lost her appeal to the Third Circuit in a case alleging that her former employer’s discrimination culminated in her 2008 firing from the job.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld an opinion from a federal district judge in Philadelphia who found that Janis Stacy failed to prove that the apparently legitimate reasons for her termination were really a pretext to fire her because of her transition from life as a man to life as a woman.
“Defendants do not dispute Stacy’s prima facie case of sex, disability, or gender identity discrimination and Stacy does not dispute the district court’s finding that defendants proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination,” wrote Judge D. Michael Fisher on behalf of the three-judge panel, which included Judge Kent A. Jordan and Senior Judge Dolores K. Sloviter.
“Accordingly, the only issue presented on appeal is whether a reasonable jury could find that defendants’ articulated explanation for Stacy’s termination was a pretext for discrimination,” he said.
The court held that Stacy didn’t bring sufficient evidence to clear that hurdle.
Stacy worked at the company for a decade—hired by Agere Systems in 1998 when she dressed and appeared like a man, going by the name Jim, and was fired in 2008 when that company merged with LSI Corp.
She was diagnosed in 2002 with gender identity disorder, “which arises from a profound divergence between an individual’s assigned birth sex and the person’s inner gender identity,” Fisher explained. After undergoing hormone therapy, counseling and surgery, Stacy had fully transitioned into being a woman by the end of 2005.
Under the supervision of the human resources department during that time, Stacy had disclosed her gender identity to her co-workers through conversations and presentations, according to the opinion.
Agere had a policy that expressly prohibited gender-identity discrimination, according to the opinion. LSI Corp. did not. The two companies merged in 2007.
After the merger, the company implemented a “force management plan,” which purged about 3,770 positions between April and December 2007 through layoffs, according to the opinion.
Just after that, Stacy’s boss was told to cut eight of his employees. Stacy was the lead engineer in a three-member group that supported a product line that the company was going to drop. She was also ranked the lowest of the three for a skill set including: execution, teamwork, communication, technical versatility and customer focus, according to the opinion.
Stacy was fired in January 2008 and alleged that her boss had told her that she “was being freed from [her] negative history with [a former boss] and the corporation,” according to the opinion, although Fisher said in a footnote that “she was not certain of the exact wording of [Norm] Lawrence’s alleged statement and there were no witnesses present when it was made.”
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 opinion in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, if a plaintiff makes a prima facie case of employment discrimination, as Stacy had, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove it had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the firing.
The defendants here have done that, so the burden shifts back to Stacy to either “discredit the proffered reason through circumstantial or direct evidence; or adduce evidence ‘that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the adverse employment action,’” Fisher said, quoting from the Third Circuit’s 1994 opinion in Fuentes v. Perskie.
Stacy pointed to five facts that would prove her employer’s explanation was only pretext for her discriminatory termination: “(1) she was replaced by another employee from outside of her work group; (2) she was selected for termination prior to Mr. Lawrence’s skills assessment; (3) the skills assessment suffered from serious weaknesses; (4) Mr. Lawrence chose her group for the purpose of targeting her; and (5) Mr. Lawrence’s explanation for her termination has changed over time,” according to the opinion.
The court wasn’t convinced by any of them.
The company didn’t hire a new employee to replace her, but moved a current employee into her position, Fisher said. That move is in keeping with the companies’ downsizing policy, he said.
The other arguments don’t have support in the record, the court held.
“Stacy’s argument in support of her pretext claim appears to consist of nothing more than baseless allegations,” Fisher said. “We find no discriminatory connection between the merger, the alleged changes in policy, and her termination. We also find no evidence in the record, beyond her own testimony, to support any of the assertions she makes regarding discriminatory comments and backlash. Accordingly, we find Stacy’s argument insufficient to rebut defendants’ justification for her termination.”
(Copies of the 11-page opinion in Stacy v. LSI, PICS No. 13-3162, are available from The Legal Intelligencer. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •