ATLANTA — Two members of a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Thursday signaled that U.S. Supreme Court precedents will require them to uphold a district court ruling that a former Georgia state legislative aide who was fired during her gender transition, was the victim of discrimination.
Vandy Beth Glenn was fired as a legislative editor at the General Assembly after she disclosed she was going to transition from male to female.
According to Glenn, when she informed her boss Sewell Brumby of her planned transition, she was told it would be seen as “immoral” by Georgia’s lawmakers.
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In 2006, Glenn told her direct supervisor she was in the process of becoming a woman. That Halloween, she made her first appearance at work dressed as a woman. But Sewell Brumby, then head of the Office of Legislative Counsel, found Glenn’s appearance inappropriate and asked her to leave.
“It’s unsettling to think of someone dressed in women’s clothing with male sexual organs inside that clothing,” Brumby said in pretrial testimony, explaining his decision. It’s “unnatural,” he said.
In the fall of 2007, Glenn told her supervisor she would begin coming to work as a woman and would be changing her legal name to Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn. She provided the supervisor photos of herself as a woman and literature about gender identification disorder.
The supervisor told this to Brumby and gave him the written materials and photos.
On Oct. 16, 2007, Brumby called Glenn into his office and asked if she fully intended to become a woman. When Glenn said she did, Brumby fired her.
Brumby, who headed the counsel’s office from 1978 until he retired in August, also testified that he was concerned that “some members of the Legislature would view that taking place within our office as perhaps immoral, perhaps unnatural and perhaps, if you will, liberal or ultra-liberal.”
During Thursday’s oral arguments, the judges seized on Brumby’s pretrial testimony, citing a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it is not just illegal to discriminate against employees because of their sex, but that it is also illegal to discriminate against those who don’t conform to the stereotypes associated with their biological sex.
Gregory Nevins of the Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing Glenn, said he was confident the law was on his client’s side.
“Vandy Beth was fired because her boss didn’t like who she is, and that kind of treatment is discriminatory and illegal,” Nevins said. “It is unfair and illegal to fire a transgender employee because she does not conform to your sexist stereotypes of how a woman should be.”
The 11th Circuit panel is considering the state’s appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Story, who found Glenn was the victim of sex discrimination.
Story ordered Glenn returned to her job and for the state to no longer discriminate against her after she returns, but that decision was stayed pending the outcome of the appeal, according to Nevins.
A decision by the 11th Circuit is expected within a few months.