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|Transgender woman wins federal lawsuit against Ga. General Assembly|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|July 09, 2010 00:00|
Vandy Beth Glenn was eating breakfast Tuesday when she got a call from Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal transgender rights attorney.
“Dru called me and told me we had won,” Glenn said. “I felt excitement and relief.”
Glenn’s excitement and relief came after learning a federal judge ruled late July 2 that the Georgia General Assembly illegally discriminated against her when she was fired from her job as a legislative editor after announcing her plans to transition from male to female. Lambda Legal is representing Glenn.
After learning the news, Glenn said she broke down in tears.
“This is the happiest I’ve been in a very, very long time. It’s been two years this month since we filed the suit and I was fired more than two and a half years ago. It’s been a very long road,” Glenn said.
She said she’s been temping and doing freelance editing to make ends meet. In March, she got a job with the U.S. Census.
“The Census is my first full-time job since I got fired,” she said.
And while her story of unemployment may be similar to many people now unemployed due to the downturn in the economy, there is a major difference.
“I lost my job due to injustice,” she said. “Justice may be sure, but is often not swift.”
Glenn was not surprised by the decision.
“I always thought the facts supported our side,” she said.
Lambda Legal’s lawsuit claimed that Glenn’s termination “violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantee because it treated her differently due to her nonconformity with sex stereotypes and her medical condition.”
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, originally named as defendants General Assembly Legislative Counsel Sewell Brumby, former state House Speaker Glenn Richardson, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, former state Senate President Pro Tempore and now Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson, and Robyn J. Underwood, the General Assembly’s legislative fiscal officer.
Richardson, Cagle, Johnson and Underwood were dismissed from the suit by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story with only Brumby remaining as a defendant.
Atlanta attorney Richard Sheinis, representing Brumby, did not return a call seeking comment. His co-counsel, Nichole Hair, said, “We have no comment.” When asked if they planned to appeal, Hair responded again with “no comment.” They work for the law firm of Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover.
Levasseur praised the decision for its message to government entities that they cannot fire a person simply for being transgender.
“[This] decision by the court proved that the Georgia General Assembly isn’t above the Constitution,” he said in a statement. “The evidence was clear — Vandy Beth was fired because her boss didn’t like who she is, and that kind of treatment is unfair and illegal.”
Ga. leader: Transition ‘unnatural’
Vandy Beth Glenn was hired as a legislative editor in 2005 when she was living as a male, Glenn Morris. In 2006, she was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and informed her supervisor, Beverly Ying, of her intention to transition to female. Glenn presented Ying with photographs of her as a woman and also gave Ying educational materials about an employee transitioning in the workplace.
Ying saw no problem with this news and gave the information to Brumby.
But when Glenn came to work dressed as a woman on Halloween in 2006 — when two other employees were dressed in costume — Brumby ordered her to go home because her attire was not appropriate. He then fired Glenn on Oct. 16, 2007, after learning she planned to transition.
Brumby stated during court depositions that the thought of someone with male sexual organs in women’s clothing was “unsettling” to him, was “something I don’t like to think about,” and was something he viewed as “unnatural.” Brumby also freely admitted he thought Georgia legislators would think Glenn’s presence at the Capitol would be “immoral.”
He also stated in depositions that keeping Glenn on the job “was inappropriate, that it would be disruptive, that some people would view it as a moral issue, and that it would make Glenn’s coworkers uncomfortable,” according to Story’s 50-page ruling.
Beth Littrell of Atlanta, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said she was “thrilled and relieved but not surprised” with the ruling that stated, in part, “avoiding the anticipated negative reactions of others cannot serve as a sufficient basis for discrimination and does not constitute an important government interest.”
“This is no substitution for a statewide law [to protect transgender employees], but it does send a message,” Littrell said.
The defendants may still appeal the decision, Littrell said, and this ruling does not negate the need for a statewide law to ensure people in Georgia cannot be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Still, there is cause for celebration with the ruling, Littrell stressed. By ruling in favor of Glenn, this suit joins other precedent-setting lawsuits that offer protections from bias in the workplace to transgender people as well as to all people, gay or straight, who do not have gender-conforming appearances.
“This is a good sign the times are changing,” she said.
Littrell presented Glenn with the Leon Allen & Winston Johnston Community Service Award at the Atlanta Human Rights Campaign Dinner in May. Glenn also testified before Congress on the need to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act in September 2009.
Glenn: ‘We deserve dignity and respect’
The court has set July 13 for a hearing to determine a remedy in the suit. Lambda Legal is seeking legal costs and back pay for Glenn. Glenn said she would also like to have her job back.
“I would be thrilled to go back to work although realistically I don’t know if that can happen,” she said.
Going back to work in the place where she was illegally fired would also send a strong message, Glenn said.
“It would be an important symbol for how far our community has come. It would make it clear that we can no longer be treated as disposable people, that we deserve dignity and respect like all workers,” she said.
“This ruling recognizes it is illegal for public employers to fire people because they are transgender.”
The judge did rule against Glenn in her claim that the state illegally fired her because of her medical condition, Gender Identity Disorder.
Brumby stated he had concerns about her using the restroom and the potential for lawsuits to be filed against the state by other employees if Glenn used the women’s restroom. While this was an unfortunate decision, Levasseur said it reflects a lack of education within the court system.
“This was a more difficult hurdle and the decision is based on bad case law,” he said.
It is not realistic for employers to be concerned with which restroom a transgender individual uses because, as many studies show, transgender people are the ones who oftentimes face harassment in the restroom.
“It’s transgender people who should be concerned with safety,” Levasseur said. “And you can’t have a job without having a restroom. We were disappointed in this aspect of the case, but it shows a lack of understanding of transgender issues.”
But he said the ruling is truly a victory.
“As a transgender person myself, I feel this is a great step in the right direction. I’m really happy with the decision. Vandy Beth is such a fighter,” he said.
He and Glenn both said they hope this ruling will help kick start renewed action on the inclusive federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“This lawsuit was never about me — whatever happened, I was going to be OK,” Glenn said.
“But this ruling is good for the LGBT community as a whole as a precedent and as a consciousness raising endeavor.”
Top photo: Vandy Beth Glenn sued the Georgia General Assembly after she was fired from her job as a legislative editor when she said she was transitioning from male to female. (courtesy HRC)
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