On Monday August 2, 2005, I was on vacation in Tampa with my wife and daughter. I woke up that morning not feeling very confident about my future in law enforcement. I had a lot to do this week, including appearing in court for my name change. As we traveled back to Miami I was talking to my wife when the first phone calls started to come in. Over the next several days, the shock waves continued as phone calls and emails continued to come in. Several coworkers offered support and many had concerns and questions. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that things had gone horribly wrong. Management had cancelled all leave for the week and advised staff that a mandatory meeting was taking place. Management began their campaign of isolation identifying me by photograph to staff. They discussed my personal and private medical information to staff including my [Fitness For Duty] examination. Staff was encouraged to monitor me and report back to management immediately if they observed any issues with me having problems. Management even went so far as to tell staff that I as being selfish to my daughter for transitioning. This would later be a common theme expressed by many staff and is still an issue with many today. I also learned that management told staff that this would more than likely end up in a lawsuit. As I heard more I became overwhelmed by the lack of sensitivity and tolerance displayed by staff. It was clear to me and my family that management’s unprofessional conduct most certainly crossed the line.
~Veronica Doe, from the Pam’s House Blend interview
During the week of January 18th, attorney Lawrence Berger filed Doe v. Homeland Security on behalf of “Veronica Doe”; Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is named as the defendant. Doe’s complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
This is a civil suit by a Federal Air Marshal against her employer, the United States Department of Homeland Security, for sex discrimination on the basis of sex, sex discrimination through sex stereotyping, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation, and deprivations/violations of Plaintiff’s rights under the United States Constitution.
In the complaint, she’s alleging that FAMS has engaged in discrimination against her specifically because of her gender identity. Doe identifies as a transsexual; she identifies as transgender.
Veronica Doe is not her real name. Because the Federal Air Marshals is a Sensitive Security Information (SSI) related service, her identity is being protected in the initial filing of the lawsuit. The first action on the case (which will be within the next few weeks) will be whether she must attach her real name to the lawsuit. Lawrence Berger indicated that the Department of Homeland Security is going to argue that they want the suit filed under Doe’s real name. Per the complaint:
Plaintiff uses an alias and her counsel’s address in order to protect and maintain the anonymity necessary for her continued successful performance as a FAM, which requires that she be able to blend in with other passengers on board aircraft.
If Doe’s name and photo becomes public, the likelihood is that her career may parallel what happened to Valerie Plame’s career when Plame was outed as a CIA agent.
Doe’s complaint alleges the following:
• On April 29, 2004, Plaintiff informed senior management at the MFO that she had been diagnosed with GID. Plaintiff explained that in the course of her treatment she would gradually transition from an outwardly masculine appearance to a decidedly feminine appearance and presentation. Plaintiff would also undertake a legal name change from her former name, which was stereotypically male, to her present feminine name.
• Almost immediately thereafter Defendant initiated a campaign of harassment and discrimination against Plaintiff in her employment because she did not conform to sex stereotypes and otherwise because of her gender, and because she was undertaking the prescribed course of medical treatment for GID. Defendant either viewed Plaintiff as a man who dressed and behaved like a woman, or it considered her a woman who was insufficiently feminine. Either way, Defendant’s sex stereotyping violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
• Plaintiff tried to work directly with Defendant to remedy the harassment and discrimination. When the actions continued unabated she hired counsel to represent her interests in a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint with Defendant’s EEO Complaints Program Management Office. Defendants continued and intensified the harassment and discrimination against Plaintiff in reprisal.
Per the complaint, the following are some examples of discrimination that Doe reports experiencing:
• Once Plaintiff’s gender transition was well underway and she was hormonally female and outwardly appearing as female she tried to discuss with [her Senior Officer In Charge (SAC)] her proposed use of the women’s restroom as opposed to the men’s. [The SAC] denied her request and refused to discuss it further, shouting “You are not a woman, you are a man!”
• [The SAC] refused to provide reasonable accommodations (shower/restroom) after Plaintiff returned from undergoing feminizing facial surgery (FFS) and was presenting as female on a full-time basis. He advised Plaintiff that unless it was an emergency she would have to leave the office and use restroom facilities at “Lester’s Diner” — located over a quarter mile away.
• [The SAC] Bauer advised Plaintiff that, after her Sex Reassignment Surgery (“SRS”) was completed, he would decide whether she would be allowed to use female facilities.
• [The SAC] signaled to the other staff members that Plaintiff was fair game for harassment by displaying her picture to field staff and telling them that she was not going to come running to management to report harassment. Plaintiff understands, upon information, belief, and experience, that this has never been done to any other field office staff personnel.
• [The SAC] has continued to refer to Plaintiff in masculine terms, including in written documents he personally authored as late as April of 2009.
• [The Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ATSAC)] both witnessed and participated in the violation of Plaintiff’s medical confidentiality and civil rights by providing to, and discussing with, other agency executive staff (SAC’S) and field office personnel Plaintiff’s personal and medical information. [The ATSAC] admitted to this in an affidavit dated July 26, 2006.
• [The ATSAC] revealed and/or discussed with MFO staff such personal information as the effect of Plaintiff’s transition upon her family (wife and daughter) and stated that Plaintiff was being selfish toward her daughter. [The ATSAC] also discussed the status of Plaintiff’s genitals with other personnel. [The ATSAC] admitted to this in the July 26, 2006 affidavit, referenced above.
The allegations literally run in the dozens.
I interviewed Air Marshal Veronica Doe for Pam’s House Blend, and the full interview is available here in PDF format. She gives a timeline for much of the discrimination she experienced, as well as answering the following question:
Has the Obama Administration’s relatively recent announcement that they are going to change policy — protecting employees based on gender identity — effected how your coworkers and management treat you in the workplace? Has the Obama Administration announcement of their policy change had any affect whatsoever on your workplace situation?
Plaintiff Veronica Doe is a career federal law enforcement officer with over twenty years of federal service — This is someone who had an exemplary career with the Bureau of Prisons prior to transferring to the Federal Air Marshals. She’s serving our country; she deserves better treatment than she appears to be receiving by others in federal service.
And speaking of country, it will be interesting to see how the Obama administration will deal with this first lawsuit involving gender identity based discrimination since their gender identity non-discrimination policy changes were first announced last June.
Certainly, for those of us who travel by air and are American and transsexual and/or transgender, this is not a heartening story. If the TSA is truly this bad with one of their own, how should we expect them to treat trans people they don’t know? Does the TSA have any relevant diversity and/or cultural sensitivity training regarding trans people? Regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community members? I know I now wonder.
This will not be the last we hear of this lawsuit, nor will this be the last we hear of discrimination within the Federal Air Marshals. There is broader context to this story that we will no doubt be reading about, as well as perhaps watching on our television sets, very soon.
* New York Times: “New Protections for Transgender Federal Workers”
* U.S. Government Adds Gender Identity Protections To USAJobs Website
* Maddow: Obama Names First Transgender Nominee; USAJobs Adds Gender Identity