Transgender maintenance worker sues for workplace bias

A transgender man of color has filed an employment-discrimination lawsuit in federal court claiming he was subjected to a hostile work environment as a maintenance technician and ultimately fired due to his gender identity.

“John Doe,” 36, of West Chester, filed suit Oct.14, naming as defendants The Westover Companies and Woodward Properties Inc. The two entities were connected in a manner that rendered one or both of them liable for the alleged wrongdoing Doe experienced, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2017, defendants hired Doe as a maintenance technician. He was assigned to work at various properties owned by defendants, including The Villages of Westbrook in Clifton Heights and Bishop Hill Apartments in Secane, according to the lawsuit.

“Doe was misgendered with “she,” “her,” and his dead name, on a frequent basis by supervisors and co-employees — who did not respect his gender identity —  throughout his employment,” the lawsuit states. “Even after Doe rebuffed and corrected his name and pronouns, the harassment and misgendering still did not stop, but continued unrectified.”

In addition, homophobic slurs including “homo fag” and “homo” were hurled by coworkers at Doe. Doe reported the alleged harassment and discrimination to a supervisor, who failed to take remedial action, according to the lawsuit.

Moreover, Doe rented a housing unit from defendants and his residence was broken into “on account of discrimintion and retaliation,” the 68-page lawsuit alleges. Doe believes a hostile coworker broke into his residence, according to the lawsuit.

Work-related documents often identified Doe using his dead name, or with just the first letter of his given name, followed by his surname. Furthermore, Doe’s work badge was modified to include just the first letter of his given name followed by his surname. Cisgender employees weren’t treated in a similar manner, according to the lawsuit.

After Doe corrected his name and pronouns to his direct supervisor, the man ostracized Doe and refused to deal with Doe directly. “Doe was isolated and excluded as a tenant and employee on account of the fact that management did not want to use his preferred name and pronouns and treat him consistent with his gender identity,” the lawsuit states.

On Nov. 12, 2018, Doe lodged a verbal and written complaint with the defendants’ Human Resources Department. In a letter, Doe wrote: “I don’t feel safe here. The supervisory maintenance technician, Robert, has said to me, ‘You make me uncomfortable.’ When I asked him what do I do that makes him uncomfortable, he said, ‘Because I have to watch what I say,’ and, ‘I’ve never had to deal with a transgender person before.’ I’ve found that Robert will not deal with me face-to-face directly. I cannot reach him by walkie-talkie or when I call his cell. It makes it more difficult for me to actually do my job when my supervisor tries to actively avoid me or won’t work with me directly because he feels uncomfortable that I’m trans. I also feel like Robert sets the example from the top down. So as a result, other staff repeatedly misgender me with ‘she’ and ‘her’ even though I correct them over and over,” according to the lawsuit.

The mistreatment continued unabated. A regional manager referred to Doe using his preferred name but wrong pronouns, which was embarrassing for Doe. On June 4, 2019, defendants informed Doe that he was discharged from employment, according to the lawsuit

Doe was also told that his rent wouldn’t increase if he would agree not to file an antibias lawsuit. However, Doe declined the offer. Subsequently, defendants refused to rehire Doe to numerous positions for which he was qualified, allegedly due to discrimination and/or retaliation for his complaints about mistreatment, according to the lawsuit.

Doe seeks more than $150,000 in damages and remedial measures implemented by defendants, including annual LGBT sensitivity training for all workers and a comprehensive antibias policy that includes “gender identity,” “gender expression” and “gender dysphoria.”

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and a jury trial has been requested. An attorney for Doe had no comment for this story. A spokesperson for The Westover Companies didn’t return messages seeking comment.Eric C. Milby, an attorney for Woodward Properties, said his client isn’t liable for any wrongdoing.  “Mr. Doe was never an employee of Woodward Properties,” Milby said, in an email. “Although he applied for a position and was not hired, the decision was based entirely on the qualifications of the pool of applicants. Woodward Properties was not aware of Mr. Doe’s transgender status.  Woodward Properties is an equal opportunity employer that thrives in part because of its commitment to diversity and fostering an inclusive environment for all employees and residents.”

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