What Does the Ruling in the Wittmer v Phillips Case Mean for LGBT People in Texas?

When it comes to federal law, there really is nothing in place to protect LGBT people either. That’s how the Wittmer v Phillips case came about. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from employment discrimination. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age, religion, and sex. The law says nothing about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Nicole Wittmer had applied for a job with a company called Phillips 66. She was offered the job but when her employer found out she was transgender, they withdrew their offer. Wittmer sued under Title VII claiming that she was discriminated against based on her being transgender.

Wittmer filed suit in the Southern District of Texas under Title VII. Although she isn’t the first transgender person to seek protection under this law, she is one of the more recent people to do so. Prior to the Wittmer v Phillips case, no court had found that the Civil Rights Act protects people based on their sexual orientation.

There is currently no state-wide legislation in Texas that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people. There are a lot of municipal and city laws that protect members of the LGBT community. But when it comes to the big issues, such as employment discrimination, there’s very little to protect the LGBT community.

History of the Case

On May 31, 2015, Nicole Wittmer applied and interviewed for a job with Phillips 66. The position she interviewed for was an Instrument and Reliability Engineer. She was offered the job on August 10, 2015. However, after talking with her previous employer, Phillips 66 rescinded the offer in September, 2015.

In October of 2016, Wittmer filed a discrimination claim with the EEOC. Phillips filed a motion for summary judgment. A summary judgment motion basically is a motion asking the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim.

The court finally heard the motion on April 4, 2018. They granted the defendant’s motion. The judge held that Title VII doesn’t protect transgender people. However, rather than use this as the basis for their ruling, the court claimed that it was dismissing Wittmer’s case for another reason.

The District Court stated the following:

  • Wittmer hadn’t made out a case for discrimination at all
  • There was no evidence that Phillips 66 hadn’t rescinded their offer on the basis of her being transgender
  • Phillips didn’t even know Wittmer was transgender until after they had rescinded her offer

After hearing the ruling, Wittmer filed an appeal.

The Appeal

Wittmer’s appeal was heard on February 6, 2019 before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It held, in part, that Title VII does not offer protection on the basis of being transgender.

Rather than say that this was the reason for affirming the ruling, however, the Court did the same thing as the Circuit Court. The judge held that the facts of the case simply didn’t support the allegations of discrimination. And, while it said that the Court had previously ruled against Title VII applying to sexual orientation cases, they weren’t willing to say if that previous ruling was correct.

The Court of Appeals granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion. This means that Wittmer’s claim was dismissed. She has not indicated whether or not she’ll take any further action in this case.

What are the Implications of Wittmer v Phillips in Texas?

Although many cities in Texas have laws protecting the LGBT community, there is still no state-wide or federal protection. Despite promises that he would enact legislation to protect the LGBT community, Trump’s administration has really done the opposite.

The courts in Wittmer v Phillips reinforced the belief that we are a long way from protection for the LGBT community. Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals clearly stated that there is no federal protection against LGBT discrimination. They also made it clear that it’s easier to dismiss a case than it is to answer the real question: Is it against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation?

Contact a LGBT Attorney in Houston, Texas

If you or your partner have been the victim of discrimination in Texas, you need to call an experienced Houston LGBT lawyer. Your lawyer can help you pursue the people responsible for the discrimination.

There is never a guarantee that you’ll win your case. However, you deserve the right to be heard. Call and schedule your initial consultation today.

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