A transgender auto mechanic claims the Georgia Department of Labor is discriminating against her by asking her to repay unemployment benefits she began receiving after she was fired by Credit Nation, a used car dealership targeting customers with credit problems.

Jennifer Chavez claims Credit Nation unfairly fired her for a minor first-time offense after she transitioned from male to female. The Georgia Department of Labor initially agreed and awarded her unemployment benefits, according to recent reports by CBS Atlanta News.

The Department of Labor has since reversed its decision and is requiring Chavez to pay back the $5,000 in benefits she had received. Chavez argues that the decision is discriminatory and biased based on her transgender status, claiming the state agency was also slow to acknowledge her name change as well.

Transgender woman claims bias in Ga. unemployment benefits

Assistant Commissioner for Unemployment Insurance Brenda Brown denied the allegation when asked by CBS reporter Wendy Saltzman if her department “has discriminated against a transsexual.”

“The Department of Labor does not discriminate against anybody for any reason,” Brown said.

CBS reported the story on May 24 and updated it on May 26. Since then, both Chavez and Credit Nation CEO James Torchia have taken to the website’s comments section to offer more of their sides of the story.

Chavez contends Credit Nation was initially supportive of her decision to transition, but she began to notice discomfort from her employers as she began coming to work dressed as a woman. She says she was fired for a first-time offense of “dozing off” at work.

“I could tell it was coming. They were looking for a reason to terminate me,” Chavez told Saltzman of CBS.

In comments on the CBS website, Chavez gave more details of the incident: “It was an ice day and hazardous to drive to work which virtually no one did, I was only one of three people who made it in on time, we also had nothing to do as no cars were moving so no parts! I had been standing around for an hour and a half, if the foreman had wanted me to do something he could have just told me that. The shop was freezing and I sat in the back seat of a car to try and warm up, the few documented minutes that I nodded off were unintentional.”

Local representatives of Credit Nation declined comment to Saltzman and directed her to the corporate office.

In the website comments, Torchia, the company’s CEO, said Credit Nation accommodated Chavez’ transition, although he continues to refer to her as male, and had reason to fire her:

Mr. Chavez was terminated for sleeping not dozing in a customer’s car while on the clock. the shop foreman snapped a picture of Mr. Chavez sleeping in the car and by doing this it time stamped the picture. The picture is in his file and this was the reason for his termination? Mr. Chavez fails to mention the letter he wrote praising Credit Nation to the AJC while he was going through this process. He also fails to mention that we let him take his two week vacation 6 months early and paid him for it while he had one of his surgeries performed. He also fails to mention that he put a major claim into our group insurance for a nose job claiming all of a sudden a deviated septum. Apparently the doctor who performed the surgery is a transexual and probably knows how to file these types of claims to get the insurance to pay which by the way Credit Nation pays 100 percent for the employee. This channel simply had to contact the corporate office to get the real facts and did not.

No protections for transgender workers

Georgia does not have a law prohibiting job discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, for either private or public employment. A bill that would ban job bias against state employees based on those categories was introduced late in this year’s legislative session; however, the measure faces an uphill battle in the Republican-led General Assembly and was introduced too late to advance this year.

The bill came in the wake of Vandy Beth Glenn’s legal victory against state officials when she was fired from her job as a legislative editor after transitioning from male to female.

The General Assembly’s legislative counsel, Sewell Brumby, fired Glenn because he thought her transition “was inappropriate, that it would be disruptive, that some people would view it as a moral issue, and that it would make Glenn’s coworkers uncomfortable,” according to court documents.

A federal court ruled that Glenn was illegally discriminated against and ordered her reinstated.

The case is currently being appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.