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A federal judge in Little Rock has denied a request to dismiss a sex-discrimination lawsuit against H&H Electric Inc. of Hot Springs over its 2012 firing of an electrical apprentice who transitioned from male to female.

In the lawsuit, filed Sept. 29, 2014, Patricia Dawson of White County alleges she was fired because of her sex and because she was perceived to fail to conform to sex stereotypes. She said she began working at the company in 2008, when she used her birth name, Steven, and presented as male.

On June 21, 2012, she had her name legally changed to Patricia Yvette Dawson. She said she ran into resistance the next day when she showed the company's vice president her driver's license with her new name and the gender marked as female and tried to formally change her name on company documents. She said the vice president, Marcus Holloway, told her he would hate to lose her and advised her to keep her legal name and her transition quiet.

She alleged that over the summer, she discovered that her electrical work at a job site in Lonoke had been sabotaged twice. In one case, she said, the sabotage could have caused an explosion and resulted in injury or death.

The lawsuit alleges that she started to wear makeup and more obviously feminine clothing to work in September, prompting Holloway to complain that he couldn't get anything done because people kept going up to him and talking about her.

She said Holloway fired her Sept. 17, 2012, saying, "I'm sorry, Steve, you do great work, but you are too much of a distraction and I am going to have to let you go."

In an order issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright refused to dismiss Dawson's civil-rights suit. She wrote, "It is well settled that Title VII's interdiction of discrimination 'because of an individual's sex' ... prohibits an employer from taking adverse action because an employee's behavior or appearance fails to conform to gender stereotypes. ... The Court finds that Dawson pleads sufficient facts to state a legally viable claim that H & H discriminated against her because of her sex in violation of Title VII."

In addressing the company's argument that Dawson's suit should be thrown out because she cannot show she received less favorable treatment than similarly situated employees, Wright noted that "such comparative evidence is not the exclusive means by which Dawson may establish an inference of discrimination."

She added, "The Court finds that Dawson has provided ample evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that she was terminated because of her sex." She said Dawson also presented enough evidence to show that H&H's stated reason for firing her -- that she threatened to sue the company for which H&H was doing work, without discussing it first with her immediate supervisor -- was merely a pretext for sex discrimination.

The case will proceed to a jury trial, Wright said.

In a news release Wednesday, Ria Tabacco Mar, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said, "We are pleased that Patricia Dawson will be able to have her day in court to correct the injustice of being fired simply because of who she is."

Metro on 09/17/2015

Print Headline: Sex-bias suit to go to trial, judge rules


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