Back to News & Commentary

The High Price of Discrimination

Colonel Diane Schroer. Photo by Tom Williams.
Colonel Diane Schroer. Photo by Tom Williams.
Paul Cates,
LGBT Project
Share This Page
July 2, 2009

We have learned that the Department of Justice will not be seeking an appeal in transgender veteran Diane Schroer’s victory against the Library of Congress. This is, of course, great news. It means that our case against the Library of Congress is final and that the groundbreaking federal court decision ruling that transgender people are protected by Title VII will stand. It shows that the Obama administration had decided to put some muscle behind its promises to help end discrimination against transgender peoples. And it means that Diane won’t have to wait through a lengthy appeal process before getting the $491,190 that is due her from the government for the discrimination she faced by the Library of Congress.

For those who haven’t been following Diane’s case, it’s a perfect example of incredible harm caused by discrimination. After a distinguished 25-year career as an Army Special Forces Officer, Diane retired from the military and applied for a job as a senior terrorism research analyst. As someone who had been hand picked to lead a classified national security operation and had even briefed Vice President Dick Cheney, Diane was especially well qualified for the job. The Library of Congress agreed and offered her the job. Before starting work, Diane asked her future boss out to lunch to explain that she was about to begin transitioning from male to female and would like to start work as a woman. The next day, Diane received a call from her future boss rescinding the offer, telling her she wasn’t a “good fit” for the Library of Congress.

The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the Library of Congress charging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. After a trial last September, a federal court agreed, issuing a groundbreaking ruling that discriminating against someone who transitions from living as one gender to another is discrimination under federal law. In reaching this decision, the court compared 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 also ruled that the library was guilty of sex stereotyping against Schroer because of its view that she failed to live up to traditional notions of what is male or female.

Later the court ruled that Diane is entitled to the maximum damages of $491,190 for back pay, other financial losses and emotional pain and suffering after finding the Library illegally discriminated against Schroer because of her sex. The decision outlining why Diane is entitled to the maximum compensation, the court quotes an affidavit from Schroer:

I am not certain if I can adequately characterize how depressing, demoralizing and temporarily debilitating it is to lose hope. Especially when that hope is founded on something that, in my mind, was completely reasonable, doable, and logical. Doing a meaningful job and putting my qualifications and experience to work, completing my transition and just going on with life — all of these things seemed to me to be reasonable and achievable. When the Library took all that away, my life changed dramatically, because there were no other positive options.

The Department of Justice under the Bush administration vigorously defended the lawsuit, claiming that transgender people are not are not protected by any existing federal laws. Fortunately that era is over and the Obama administration rightly realized that it was time to put an end this litigation. A representative from DOJ has said in the press that its decision not to appeal was based on its assessment of the strength of the factual findings and the legal rulings made in this case, and not whether it would be a good move politically. That is a fine compliment to the ACLU lawyers who litigated the case, especially Sharon McGowan who has championed this case since her first conversation with Diane. But it also shows that the Obama administration really does recognize that discrimination based on gender identity shouldn’t be tolerated.

As far as lawsuits go, this one came out just about as good as we could have hoped. But no amount of money could ever compensate for the harm that is caused by discrimination. And I’m not just talking about the harm to Diane. I’m talking about the harm to all of us. As a man, Diane was considered the best person to help congress help our country fight terrorism. But the qualifications that convinced the Library of Congress to offer Diane the job were tossed aside as soon as it learned she is transgender. Our safety is a pretty hefty price to pay for the government’s discrimination.

Watch a clip about Diane’s life and the discrimination she faced at the Library of Congress.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page