Tabu denies wrongdoing in response to antibias lawsuit

On Nov. 9, attorneys for Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar answered a trans-related antibias lawsuit filed by a former Tabu employee by denying any wrongdoing on the part of the LGBT-oriented establishment and requesting that the lawsuit be dismissed.

“Roe,” who is transgender and non-binary, worked as a server at Tabu from October 2018 to December 2019. Roe filed suit against Tabu in July 2020, alleging compensation discrimination, failure-to-promote, hostile work environment, retaliation and wrongful discharge. 

Roe suffers from gender dysphoria and claims their condition worsened due to alleged mistreatment at Tabu, located at 254 S. 12th St. in the Gayborhood. “Roe was profoundly affected by the abuses they experienced at Tabu which exacerbated Roe’s gender dysphoria leading to severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit states. “This trauma is connected to Roe’s employment which similarly-situated cisgender individuals do not have to experience.”

Roe allegedly was fired in December 2019, after gradually transitioning as a non-binary trans person. But in a 39-page answer, attorneys for Tabu denied any wrongdoing in the matter. Addressing the numerous allegations in Roe’s 48-page lawsuit, Tabu’s answer repeatedly states: “Defendant denies that it discriminated or retaliated against Plaintiff, or otherwise acted unlawfully towards Plaintiff.”

Moreover, the answer asserts that Roe didn’t comply with instruction regarding timely arrivals for work. “It is admitted Plaintiff was provided with instructions relating to timely arrivals for work,” the answer states. “It is denied that [Roe] complied with these instructions.”

The answer also raises various affirmative defenses, including that Roe failed to exhaust their administrative remedies; Roe’s claims aren’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act; Tabu made good-faith efforts to reasonably accommodate Roe; Tabu established effective procedures to detect and prevent unlawful conduct such as the conduct alleged by Roe; Roe failed to mitigate any alleged damages; and Tabu engaged in good-faith efforts to comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws that prohibit employment discrimination and retaliation.

The answer goes on to state: “Defendant reserves the right to amend or assert additional defenses which may become known during the course of discovery or revealed during pretrial proceedings. This reservation of rights includes, but is not limited to, any additional affirmative defenses that may be necessary should Plaintiff add additional claims to her complaint.”

Tabu’s attorneys and its co-owner, Jeffrey C. Sotland, were asked about the reference to Roe as “her” in the answer. In emails to PGN, Sotland denied that the answer misgenders Roe. He noted that the answer refers to Roe with gender-neutral pronouns 12 times, and only once with a gender-specific pronoun. Sotland also noted that Roe’s lawsuit states that Roe repeatedly identified their preferred pronouns as “she” or “they” when working at Tabu. Sotland said the answer complies with Roe’s wishes.

In Roe’s July 2020 motion for anonymity filed with the court, a preference was expressed for gender-neutral references such as “Roe,” rather than “Jane Doe” or “John Doe.” 

“‘Roe’ is appropriate, as plaintiff does not prefer to identify as male or female, and therefore ‘Jane Doe’ or ‘John Doe’ would not be preferred,” the motion states. “Plaintiff identifies in the complaint as transgender and non-binary with ‘they, ‘them,’ and ‘theirs’ pronouns.”

But in an email, Sotland asserted that “the motion to proceed anonymously (which was not opposed), while expressing a desire to be referred to as transgender and non-binary — there is no relief on this specific issue and the order granting [anonymity] only grants Roe the ability to proceed anonymously and to redact their address from the pleadings.”

Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Roe, had no comment for this update.

Roe is seeking more than $150,000 in damages, reasonable attorney fees, a written apology from Tabu and other remedial measures at Tabu, according to the lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A trial has been tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. May 13, 2021, in Courtroom 9A of the U.S. Court House in Center City, according to court records.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Keystone Press and the Pennsylvania Press Club.