Gay man sues Philadelphia Parking Authority


Darryl Watson, an African-American gay man, says he was unlawfully fired as a data analyst at the Philadelphia Parking Authority shortly after supervisors discovered his LGBT status. He worked at the agency from Feb. 24, 2020, to March 3, 2020.

On March 30, 2021, Watson filed suit at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He claims he was retaliated against and fired after top leadership at PPA discovered his LGBT-oriented social-media posts.

Watson alleges that on Feb. 28, 2020, he was called into a meeting with two high-ranking PPA officials and questioned about one of his social-media posts.

According to the lawsuit, the officials showed Watson a social-media post in which he admired the rear end of another man. “This guy has a nice butt I hope his girlfriend knows how lucky she is,” the post stated.

“[Watson’s] social media post was made on his personal account,” the lawsuit states. “Further, the post was not: created or posted during work hours, created or posted on a company device, and was not created or directed toward an employee of defendant PPA.”

During the meeting, one PPA official allegedly suggested that the post made Wilson seem like a “sexual predator” and that male co-workers would worry he was “checking them out.” Moreover, Watson allegedly was told PPA was a “conservative place” and “[your] homosexuality was an issue” for a top-ranking PPA official.

Prior to the meeting, Watson hadn’t disclosed any information regarding his LGBT status to his superiors. Watson was “extremely offended” by the “sexual predator” remark because he is a sexual assault survivor, according to the lawsuit.

Also during the meeting, Watson allegedly was told that “certain compromises had to be made,” because some employees weren’t comfortable with an African-American man also being gay, according to the lawsuit. 

Additionally, Watson allegedly was told he would have to complete mandatory trainings about ethics, sexual harassment, and social-media use, according to the lawsuit.

On March 3, 2020, human-resources representatives approached Watson to discuss about 20 posts Watson made on Facebook and Twitter, all of which were created prior to Watson’s hiring. Watson was terminated the same day, allegedly due to violating PPA’s social-media policy, according to his lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges PPA’s treatment of Watson violated city, state and federal antibias laws. Watson is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe and a jury trial has been requested.

In a written statement, PPA spokesperson Marty O’Rourke emphatically denied the allegations. “The PPA vehemently denies that Mr. Watson was ever subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation by the Authority or any of its employees due to his sexual orientation or for any other reason,” O’Rourke said, in an email. “The PPA maintains an inclusive workforce, has LGBTQ+ employees at every level, and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. The PPA intends to vigorously defend this matter in court, up to and through trial. While the PPA will formally respond in court, Mr. Watson’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation were previously investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Mr. Watson’s Charge of Discrimination was dismissed in favor of the PPA.”

Erica A. Shikunov, an attorney for Watson, issued this statement: “At the Derek Smith Law Group we believe that every individual has the right to a workplace free from bigotry of any kind. Discrimination and disparate treatment on the basis of sexual orientation and/or race is illegal, unacceptable and we refuse to tolerate it. We intend to prove that our client was terminated due to the fact that he was not willing to hide his sexuality and has always behaved as his earnest, open and authentic self. We intend to prove he was treated differently on the basis of his race/sexuality and in retaliation for social media posts that were put forth well before his employment commenced with the PPA. We intend to further prove that after discovering his sexual orientation the PPA violated its own policies and terminated him four days after his sexuality was discovered. Mr. Watson is a dedicated, talented and hardworking employee, and no one deserves to be subjected to discrimination or disparate treatment on the basis of his race or sexuality.”

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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, and the Keystone Press.