A transgender woman in Detroit is suing the city, alleging harassment and discrimination that was ignored by superiors.
According to a lawsuit filed this week, the plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, was hired by Detroit’s Office of Development and Grants in January 2016, several months before she transitioned. When she told colleagues about plans to undergo gender-confirmation surgery, she says they were initially supportive, she claims.
But when she returned to work with a new name and wearing female clothing, two complaints were filed against her, alleging she violated the office dress code. In court papers, Doe said human resources confirmed no such dress code existed.
The lawsuit also claims that the nameplate on her office door was defaced with the word “Mr.” Days later someone left a holiday gift bag with a sex toy and a note inside with references to the Bible and the message, “We don’t want people like you working here.”
In May 2017, Doe filed complaints with Detroit’s Human Rights Department, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But officials ignored the problem, her suit claims, refusing to “take prompt, effective remedial action to stop the harassment.” Instead she was told to keep working, seek a leave of absence, or quit.
The hostile work environment led to Doe having panic attacks, her lawyers state in court documents, as well as her being passed over for a promotion that had been recommended by a supervisor.
Doe’s suit claims the actions taken by her employer violate the state’s civil rights law and were “deliberate and intentional, and engaged in with malice, or with reckless indifference to the rights and sensibilities.”
“The city takes any allegation of discrimination very seriously, although we do not comment on pending litigation. We are confident that the legal process [will] validate the city’s actions in this case,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia told The Detroit News.
Both gender identity and sexual orientation are protected classes in Detroit’s employment nondiscrimination laws, but the Michigan Civil Rights Commission tabled a decision in November on whether LGBT people are included in state-level protections. It’s set to take up the issue again on May 21 but, in the meantime, has instructed the Civil Rights Department not to process any complaints involving sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We are hoping that the department will find itself in the position to start taking those cases after the May 21 commission meeting,” said Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “Since the language found in both the state and federal statutes are identical, from our position, there’s a presumption that a prohibition would be enforced.”