A lawsuit against less-than-truckload carrier FedEx Freight filed by a dismissed transgender driver has been settled out of court, eliminating the possiblity that a judge’s decision in the case might generate a legal precedent regarding discrimination against transgender people.
The case was filed in late 2017 by Miko Squire, who was born female but transitioned to male. Squire, who is identified in all the litigation as “he,” is married to a woman.
Squire worked as a driver for FedEx Freight in the Baltimore area between January 2014 and March 20, 2017, when he was dismissed. Squire said he was dismissed because his co-workers and managers found out he was transgender, which the lawsuit makes clear was not known to them for most of his tenure at the company.
FedEx Freight says Squire was dismissed because he turned down assignments at the end of a day in which he had already worked.
The case went through more than two years of discovery and the rejection by the federal District Court of Maryland of a summary judgment request by FedEx Freight. In an order released Wednesday, Judge Ellen Hollander dismissed the case after Squire and FedEx Freight had settled the litigation for an undisclosed amount.
In the original lawsuit, Squire had requested $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, though he left the door open for more by requesting “additional and further relief as the Court may deem appropriate.”
Judge appeared sympathetic to driver’s complaint
Although there is no final ruling by the court in the dispute, Hollander in March rejected a FedEx Freight request for dismissal of the case. A reading of the opinion is easily interpreted as believing she was sympathetic to Squire’s allegation that he was discriminated against because of his transgender status and that the former driver had a strong possibility of prevailing if the case had gone to trial.
According to the recap of Squire’s dismissal both from Hollander and the original complaint filed in 2017, Squire’s co-workers only became aware that he was transgender when, as one of the final steps of his sex reassignment surgery, he required a hysterectomy.
“Squire acknowledged at his deposition that no one at FeEx had ever used derogatory terms for transgender people in his presence,” the judge wrote. “Nor had anyone ever told Squire that they did not want to work with him because of his gender identity.”
Squire’s performance as an employee does appear to have been a subject of some dispute. Squire said in his suit that he worked for more than two years “without complaints about his performance,” according to Hollander’s recap of the case, “but Squire had actually received “written warnings eight times before February 2016 for untimely lunch breaks.”
Squire requested time off for the hysterectomy in August 2016. The request was made to an HR representative, Terrika Martin. Squire came back to work in October of that year after the surgery.
According to the judge’s recap, Squire at first resisted providing some medical documentation that would reveal it was a hysterectomy that kept him out of work, fearing that his manager and co-workers would learn about his being transgender when they had not known that previously. His manager ultimately did learn, as did others, in part because of a series of emails that mentioned “hysterectomy.”
A request to work additional hours
It was several months later, in March 2017, that Squire was told by his dispatcher to take on a delivery at the end of his workday. Squire refused.
That ultimately led to an insubordination charge, though Squire argued in his initial complaint that seniority rules allowed him to refuse to do the route, and that he’d seen similar rejections of work requests by drivers that didn’t result in dismissal. But on the day Squire refused the load, he was suspended. He was later dismissed.
“Plaintiff was in fact terminated from his employment because his employer, FedEx [Freight], was made aware by its employee Martin [the HR official] that [Squire] had been born a woman, had recently undergone the final stage of gender reassignment and was married to a woman,” Squire alleges in the original complaint.
FedEx disagreed and reviewed several points in its rules and regulations that it said justified Squire’s dismissal. Squire argued that FedEx had provided “pretextual” reasons for the dismissal; in other words, they were substitutes for the real reason, which Squire contends is that he is transgender.
“Squire essentially argues that … FedEx did not follow its own procedures in disciplining him and disciplined him more severely than other employees who refused extra assignments,” Hollander wrote.
“As I see it,” the judge added, “(Squire) has generated a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether FedEx’ statement that it fired him for insubordination was pretextual.” She expressed doubt about the specific point-by-point reasons FedEx gave regarding its own rules.
Hollander did say FedEx had “articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Squire’s termination.” But it was undercut by the deposition of driver John Keenan, a colleague of Squire’s, who testified in a deposition that he had refused assignments, knew of other drivers that had done so, “but he was not aware of anyone other than Squire who had been disciplined for doing so.”
“FedEx does not address Keenan’s claim that he was not disciplined at all for the same conduct,” the judge said.
The judge’s order on FedEx Freight’s motion to dismiss came down on March 12. Two weeks later, the parties requested a settlement conference, and the settlement is now in the books.
Hollander’s dismissal ruling does cite other cases in the question of the legal protections to be offered to transgender people, but also notes the Supreme Court has not weighed in on the question. If it does, it won’t be on the case involving Miko Squire and FedEx Freight.