A former state correctional officer who is a Latinx trans man has filed a federal anti-bias suit, claiming he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his gender identity.
The 88-page lawsuit was filed Sept. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. A jury trial has been requested.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and various DOC employees are named as defendants.
“John Doe” worked at the state prison in Coal Township from October 2013 to November 2017.
Doe claims he was ostracized by coworkers, denied access to locker room and restroom facilities consistent with his gender identity, targeted with demeaning and abusive comments and repeatedly misgendered by other guards and supervisors. “The discriminatory conduct Doe experienced actually exacerbated his gender dysphoria, a covered disability,” the lawsuit asserts.
According to the lawsuit, supervisors would frequently ask Doe to remove his prosthetic penis before entering the prison. However, Doe would refuse to do so.
Inmates also mistreated Doe, the lawsuit asserts. “The conduct on the part of the prison guards set an example top-down and encouraged abuse by the inmates as well. Doe recollects on one occasion he walked onto a unit and a group of male inmates yelled, ‘Fucking tranny,’” according to the lawsuit.
One supervisor allegedly said, “If [Doe] doesn’t stop with this gender and race stuff, he won’t last here long, and I’ll see to it.”.
In February 2017, a coworker allegedly told Doe, “You’re not a man. You still have tits and a tw-t, right?”
When entering an all-male section of the prison, Doe was required to announce “Female on the block,” or “Female on the unit,” despite his identity as a trans man. But in September 2017, a supervisor permitted Doe to stop making the announcement, after Doe expressed his concerns about the practice, according to the lawsuit.
In November 2017, a supervisor was discussing a police shooting in the news and told Doe: “You minorities get what you deserve,” and “You ask for it,” according to the suit.
Doe feared for his personal safety due to the comment. “Doe felt the comment was directed at him and was a threat,” the lawsuit states. “In today’s climate of violence against trans people of color, Doe did feel threatened by the comment.”
But when Doe expressed concerns about the hostile work environment, upper management failed to implement prompt, reasonable safeguards to remedy the situation, according to the lawsuit.
Doe sought professional counseling and was diagnosed with work-induced anxiety, which exacerbated his gender dysphoria, according to the lawsuit.
Doe alleges that he was “constructively discharged,” meaning he felt he had no choice but to resign, due to the mistreatment.
“Doe was constructively discharged from employment on Nov. 17, 2017, due to the hostile environment, harassment and complete disrespect for his gender identity, which occurred on a daily basis.”
Doe is seeking in excess of $150,000 in damages and a judicial order that the DOC enact trans-friendly policies, including allowing employees to use locker rooms, restrooms and showers consistent with their gender identity.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann.
Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe, issued this statement: “We firmly believe the Commonwealth prison system is far from being trans-inclusive. My client wants to ensure that any other employees and inmates who are trans are treated fairly in the future. My client was seriously damaged by what he experienced and is looking forward to a jury hearing all of the evidence and reaching a just verdict.”
Susan McNaughton, a spokesperson for the DOC, declined to comment. “We haven’t received the suit, so we can’t comment,” she said, in an email.