Transgender Veteran Wins Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against Library of Congress

September 19, 2008

Federal Court Sides With ACLU, Ruling That Refusing To Hire Transgender People Is Discriminatory

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WASHINGTON - Today a federal judge ruled that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against a Special Forces veteran when she was denied a job after announcing her intention to transition from male to female. In a groundbreaking decision, the court ruled that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.

"It is especially gratifying that the court has ruled that discriminating against someone for transitioning is illegal," said Diane Schroer, the plaintiff in the case. "I knew all along that the 25 years of experience I gained defending our country didn't disappear when I transitioned, so it was hard to understand why I was being turned down for a job doing what I do best just because I'm transgender. It is tremendously gratifying to have your faith in this country, and what is fundamentally right and fair, be reaffirmed."

In reaching its decision, the court ruled: "The evidence established that the Library was enthusiastic about hiring David Schroer – until she disclosed her transsexuality. The Library revoked the offer when it learned that a man named David intended to become, legally, culturally, and physically, a woman named Diane. This was discrimination 'because of . . . sex.'"

The court compares the discrimination faced by Schroer to religious-based discrimination, saying, "Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism. Imagine too that her employer testified that he harbors no bias toward either Christians or Jews but only 'converts.' That would be a clear case of discrimination 'because of religion.' No court would take seriously the notion that 'converts' are not covered by the statute."

"The court got it exactly right, sending a loud and clear message to employers everywhere: if you fire or refused to hire someone for transitioning, you are guilty of sex discrimination and may well find yourself liable," said Sharon McGowan, one of the ACLU LGBT Project staff attorneys who tried the case.

The court also ruled that the Library was guilty of sex stereotyping against Schroer because she failed to live up to traditional notions of what is male or female.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit against the Library of Congress on June 2, 2005. After retiring from the military, Schroer, who had been hand-picked to head up a classified national security operation while serving as a Special Forces officer, applied for a position with the Library of Congress as the senior terrorism research analyst. Soon thereafter she was offered the job, which she accepted immediately. Prior to starting work, Schroer took her future boss to lunch to explain that she was in the process of transitioning and thought it would be easier for everyone if she simply started work presenting as female. The following day, Schroer received a call from her future boss rescinding the offer, telling her that she wasn't a "good fit" for the Library of Congress.

The lawsuit charged that the Library of Congress unlawfully refused to hire Schroer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against sex discrimination in the workplace. The Library of Congress moved to dismiss the case several times, claiming that transgender people are not covered under Title VII of 1964. After a trial last month, the court rejected those arguments and ruled that the Library illegally discriminated against Schroer in violation of Title VII. The court's decision indicated that the next step in the case will be further proceedings to determine the appropriate remedies for this discrimination. Those remedies may include ordering the Library of Congress to hire Schroer, award back pay for the wages she lost or provide monetary compensation for the injury caused by discrimination.

"I very much hope that this ruling will help to eliminate the all-too-pervasive discrimination against gender non-conforming people in all areas. I hope too, that employers, family members, friends and co-workers will begin to understand variations in gender identity from a basis of knowledge and not fear," added Schroer.

In addition to McGowan, the legal team consisted of Ken Choe, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project, James Esseks, Litigation Director for the ACLU LGBT Project and Art Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

A copy of the decision, the complaint, a video, a bio and photographs of Diane Schroer are available at: www.aclu.org/caseprofiles

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