A federal jury in Illinois has rejected a transgender employee’s claim that she was discriminated against and illegally fired after she told her employer that she was transitioning.
In 2016, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Rent-A-Center East, Inc., alleging the company discharged Megan Kerr illegally in 2014, after over a year’s worth of efforts to terminate her employment or force her to quit following her news that she was transgender. According to the complaint, the EEOC alleged that the effect of the practices of Kerr’s supervisors at the relevant store in Rantoul, Illinois, was to “deprive Kerr of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect her status as an employee because of her sex.”
Rent-A-Center denied the discrimination claims. According to the company, in July 2016, Kerr asked her supervisor to use a company truck on a Sunday to deliver furniture for a local civic organization project. Although Kerr’s request was granted, Kerr improperly used the vehicle to move her own personal belongings, in violation of Rent-A-Center policy. Kerr’s personal use of the vehicle, according to the company, is what led to her discharge the following day.
At trial, the eight-person jury rejected Kerr’s claims. It found that her transgender status was not a motivating factor in Rent-A-Center’s decision to fire her. Instead, it credited the company’s argument that the employee was discharged after she was caught improperly using a company delivery vehicle for her own personal use. The fact that Kerr’s story about her use of the company vehicle apparently changed dramatically over time may have been significant to the jury’s determination.
Discrimination claims based on transgender status are just one of many relatively new bases for bringing discrimination lawsuits.