Federal Court Awards Transgender Veteran Maximum Compensation In Sex Discrimination Case Against Library of Congress

April 29, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — A federal judge ruled that transgender veteran Diane Schroer is entitled to the maximum compensation for the discrimination she suffered after being refused a job with the Library of Congress. The American Civil Liberties Union brought a sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Schroer, a Special Forces veteran who retired after 25 years of service, when she was denied a job after announcing her intention to transition from male to female.

“I served our country because I believed in an America that is committed to ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to have a meaningful life. That belief was shaken when I was told I wasn’t worthy to do what I trained my entire life to do because I happen to be transgender,” said Schroer. “Today’s decision restores my faith in our democracy. The court understood the senseless harm that is caused by discrimination, and that gives me hope that others will also.”

In reaching his decision to award Schroer the maximum in damages, the court noted the devastating effect the library’s discrimination had on Schroer. The refusal to hire Schroer came at a time when she was both transitioning from serving in the military and transitioning from male to female. The decision 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 court awarded Schroer a total of $491,190, including $183,653 for back pay and benefits, $300,000 for emotional pain and suffering, and $7,537.80 for other out-of-pocket expenses that were incurred as a result of the library’s discriminatory conduct.

“Today’s decision is especially gratifying because it puts all employers on notice that transgender discrimination, in addition to being wrong, can be very expensive,” said Sharon McGowan, an attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project that has represented Schroer since this case began four years ago.

It is now up to the government to decide whether or not to appeal the decision.

“President Obama has said that it is one of his priorities to bar discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment,” added McGowan. “His administration can prove that it is really committed to ending transgender discrimination by choosing not to seek an appeal in this case, and by making clear to all government agencies that this discrimination will not be tolerated.”

In an earlier ruling in this case, the court issued 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.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit against the Library of Congress on June 2, 2005, charging that the library unlawfully refused to hire Schroer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against sex discrimination in the workplace. 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 Library of Congress moved to dismiss the case several times, claiming that transgender people may not bring claims for employment discrimination under Title VII of 1964 because the law’s protections do not apply to them. After a trial in August 2008, the court rejected those arguments and ruled that the Library illegally discriminated against Schroer in violation of Title VII.

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: /lgbt/transgender/24969res20050602.html

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