A federal judge last week found in favor of a transgender Army veteran who accused a federal agency of employment discrimination, awarding her nearly $500,000.
U.S. District Judge James Robinson ruled April 28 that Diane Schroer, who spent 25 years in the Army and served as a Special Forces commander, was unjustly treated by the Library of Congress.
Schroer was offered a job as a terrorism analyst with the Library in 2004, but when she informed her supervisor that she was planning to transition to become a woman, the offer was rescinded.
“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,” Schroer said after the ruling. “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.”
The judge ruled that Schroer was entitled to $491,190 in back pay and damages — $300,000 for emotional pain and suffering, $183,653 in back pay and an additional $7,500 for court expenses — the maximum compensation that she could have received.
“The court understood the senseless harm that is caused by discrimination, and that gives me hope that others will also,” Schroer said.
In an earlier ruling, Robinson said that under federal law, the Library could not discriminate against an individual because of his or her decision to transition to another gender.
In last week’s ruling, Robinson also noted that the Library was guilty of sex stereotyping, as Schroer did not live up to general assumptions about what a male or female should look like.
Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project and lead attorney on the case, said she hopes the ruling will underscore the effects of discrimination that LGBT people and other minorities often experience in the workplace.
“The decision from the court sends an extremely clear message that not only is employment discrimination wrong in the sense that it’s against the law and employers will be subject to liability if they engage in discrimination, but it also articulated in a very clear way why discrimination is so devastating to the lives of people who suffer from it,” McGowan said. “It was as much a call to everyone in society to end the scourge of discrimination because all of us suffer when people are denied opportunities to participate to the fullest extent, based on something like gender identity, which has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s job qualifications.”
McGowan said the Library, which made several unsuccessful motions in the past few years to have the case dismissed, will have up to two months to file an appeal to the ruling.
The Library did not return calls for comment.
Openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) expressed dismay at the Library’s actions, but said the case could further illustrate to Congressmembers the need for a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would provide workplace protections for the LGBT community.
“As a member of Congress, I am deeply distressed that the Library of Congress practiced discrimination in the name of the institution in which I serve,” Frank said. “It is my hope that in this Congress, we will act to provide needed legal protection for people like Diane Schroer who suffer acts of discrimination.”
McGowan noted that last week’s ruling serves as an “explicit statement of the principles that President Obama stood for on his campaign trail and since he’s become president,” and that she’s hopeful he’ll support not only the ruling, but also spearhead efforts to prohibit LGBT employment discrimination in the federal government.