Judge lets Trans antibias case move forward

A federal judge this month allowed the antibias lawsuit of a Trans man who formerly worked as a prison guard to move toward a jury trial, despite defense efforts to dismiss the case.

In September 2019, “John Doe” filed an 88-page lawsuit, alleging a hostile work environment by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections due to his gender identity.

Doe, who is Latinx, worked at a state prison in Coal Township from October 2013 to November 2017.

On Aug. 8, in a 28-page ruling, Judge Matthew W. Brann declined to dismiss Doe’s case, despite DOC’s request that he do so. The judge said Doe has provided enough evidence to establish a “genuine issue for trial.”

“Viewing the totality of the circumstances and Doe’s work atmosphere as a whole, a reasonable juror could find a hostile work environment,” Brann wrote.

Doe also claims he was “constructively discharged” from employment by the DOC on Nov. 17, 2017 — meaning he felt he had no choice but to resign, due to the alleged mistreatment. 

Doe’s lawsuit asserts he had to quit “due to the hostile environment, harassment and complete disrespect for his gender identity, which occurred on a daily basis.”

Brann allowed that claim to remain, noting a reasonable juror could find that Doe was constructively discharged. “Doe’s constructive discharge claim does not fail,” Brann wrote.

However, Brann dismissed Doe’s claim that the DOC failed to accommodate his gender dysphoria, noting that coworkers made “good-faith” efforts to do so.

Moreover, Brann dismissed Doe’s retaliation claim against the DOC. The judge said Doe failed to provide sufficient evidence that DOC officials retaliated against him for complaining about the alleged mistreatment.

Doe alleges he was ostracized by coworkers, denied access to locker room and restroom facilities consistent with his gender identity, targeted with demeaning and abusive comments and repeatedly misgendered by other guards and supervisors.

“The discriminatory conduct Doe experienced actually exacerbated his gender dysphoria, a covered disability,” the lawsuit asserts.

According to Doe’s lawsuit, supervisors would frequently ask him to remove his prosthetic penis before entering the prison. However, Doe would refuse to do so.

Inmates also mistreated Doe, the lawsuit asserts. “The conduct on the part of the prison guards set an example top-down and encouraged abuse by the inmates as well. Doe recollects on one occasion he walked onto a unit and a group of male inmates yelled, ‘Fucking tranny,’” according to the lawsuit.

One supervisor allegedly said, “If [Doe] doesn’t stop with this gender and race stuff, he won’t last here long. And I’ll see to it.”

In February 2017, a coworker allegedly told Doe, “You’re not a man. You still have tits and a tw-t, right?”

In November 2017, a supervisor was discussing a police shooting in the news and told Doe: “You minorities get what you deserve,” and “You ask for it,” according to the suit.

Doe feared for his personal safety due to the comment. “Doe felt the comment was directed at him and was a threat,” the lawsuit states. “In today’s climate of violence against Trans people of color, Doe did feel threatened by the comment.”

But when Doe expressed concerns about the hostile work environment, upper management failed to implement prompt, reasonable safeguards to remedy the situation, according to the lawsuit.

Doe sought professional counseling and was diagnosed with work-induced anxiety, which exacerbated his gender dysphoria, according to the lawsuit.

Doe is seeking in excess of $150,000 in damages and a judicial order that the DOC enact Trans-friendly policies, including allowing employees to use locker rooms, restrooms and showers consistent with their gender identity.

Maria A. Bivens, a spokesperson for the state DOC, declined to comment about Brann’s ruling. “The DOC does not comment on litigation,” Bivens wrote, in an email.

Graham F. Baird, an attorney for Doe, issued this statement: “We believe that certain individuals within the Department of Corrections demonstrated a lack of understanding and sensitivity with respect to my client’s gender transition. And ultimately, we think that resulted in the violation of my client’s rights. Some people at the prison were openly hostile and downright cruel. On a human level, I will never understand acting cruel towards someone because of who they are. My client is now looking forward to his day in court and being heard and judged by a jury of his peers.”  

If both sides cannot reach a settlement, a jury trial is expected to take place early next year, Baird added.

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