Olivarez v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., No. 20-20463 (5th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.
Plaintiff filed suit against T-Mobile and Broadspire, alleging transgender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his treatment while working as a retail employee at a T-Mobile store. The court concluded that, at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, its analysis of the Title VII claim is governed by Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)—and not the evidentiary standard set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under Swierkiewicz, there are two ultimate elements a plaintiff must plead to support a disparate treatment claim under Title VII: (1) an adverse employment action, (2) taken against a plaintiff because of her protected status. The court explained that when a complaint purports to allege a case of circumstantial evidence of discrimination, it may be helpful to refer to McDonnell Douglas to understand whether a plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded an adverse employment action taken "because of" his protected status as required under Swierkiewicz.
Applying these principles here, the court concluded that there is no dispute that plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action. However, the court concluded that plaintiff has failed to plead any facts indicating less favorable treatment than others "similarly situated" outside of the asserted protected class. In this case, the Second Amended Complaint does not contain any facts about any comparators at all, and there is no allegation that any non-transgender employee with a similar job and supervisor and who engaged in the same conduct as plaintiff received more favorable treatment. Therefore, the complaint does not plead any facts that would permit a reasonable inference that T-Mobile terminated plaintiff because of gender identity. Furthermore, plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination claim fails for similar reasons, and plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII is untimely.
The court rejected plaintiff's contention that Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), changed the law and created a lower standard for those alleging discrimination based on gender identity. Rather, the court concluded that Bostock did not constitute an intervening change of law that warrants reconsideration under Rule 59(e). The court explained that Bostock defined sex discrimination to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, but did not alter the meaning of discrimination itself. Therefore, where an employer discharged a sales employee who happens to be transgender—but who took six months of leave, and then sought further leave for the indefinite future, that is an ordinary business practice rather than discrimination. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying further leave to amend.
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on May 12, 2021.