Rosa v. Park West Bank: Do Clothes Really Make the Man?
In July of 1998 something rather mundane happened: Lucas Rosa walked into Park West Bank in Holyoke, Massachusetts and asked for a loan application. Since it was a warm summer day, and because she' wanted to look credit-worthy, Rosa wore a blousey top over stockings. Suddenly, the mundane transformed into the exceptional: When asked for some identification, Rosa was told that no application would be forthcoming until and unless she went home, changed her clothes and returned attired in more traditionally masculine/male clothing. Rosa, a biological male who identifies herself as female was, it seems, denied a loan application on that ground.
Outraged at such treatment, and convinced that her attire had no relevance to her credit-worthiness, Rosa filed an action in federal court under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, claiming that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex. Was Rosa discriminated against on the basis of his male sex, on the basis of her female gender, or on some other basis that may or may not fall comfortably under the sex discrimination provisions of the ECOA? After all, the ECOA was enacted by Congress in 1974, in large part to curtail the practice among creditors of refusing to grant a wife's credit application without a guaranty from her husband Did Rosa's case present some radical interpretation of sex discrimination principles, or threaten to stretch the bounds of the ECOA well beyond the scope intended by its authors in 1974? I thought not, and to my delight the First Circuit has agreed.
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- May 6, 2016