City defends treatment of trans worker
by Timothy Cwiek
Mar 13, 2014 | 1680 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City attorneys last week filed a lengthy brief denying any wrongdoing in the case of Bobbie E. Burnett, a transgender city employee who alleges pervasive workplace bias.

Burnett, 58, is a city library assistant who says she began experiencing problems at work in 2001, shortly after transitioning to the opposite gender.

She filed suit in 2009, citing violations of city, state and federal antibias laws that protect transgender individuals and ban gender stereotyping.

Burnett’s attorneys want her case to go directly to a damages trial, contending they’ve already proven her allegations.

But the city’s brief emphasizes that numerous factual disputes remain, and the case should be decided by a jury — if it isn’t tossed out before then.

The city’s brief addresses three main allegations by Burnett: unfair restroom restrictions, excessive transfers and negative performance reviews based on gender stereotyping.

As to the restroom issue, the city’s brief notes Philadelphia’s antibias law protecting transgender individuals was relatively new when Burnett began transitioning to the opposite gender.

The city’s brief stresses that the city did its best to accommodate the “chaos” allegedly caused by Burnett’s attempts to use gender-appropriate restrooms.

“[Burnett] cannot establish that the employer’s reason for denying her access to the women’s restroom (to preserve the safety and the decorum of the Library) was illegitimate,” the city’s brief states.

The city also claims that library officials were “inundated with extreme criticism from the public about [Burnett]. A small part of the concerns arose from the fact that [Burnett] might accidentally walk in on a child.”

Library officials reasonably responded to “the general volatility of the situation, and the risk that such volatility would be ignited by [Burnett’s] use of the women’s restroom,” according to the city’s brief.

Burnett has been transferred to nine different library branches within six years. She contends the transfers were bias-motivated, to induce her resignation.

Some of the transfers placed Burnett in neighborhoods where she was at risk for physical and verbal assaults, and she had to be escorted to her vehicle at night, according to her lawsuit.

But the city’s brief denies the transfers were bias-motivated, and notes that Burnett requested several of the transfers.

“[Burnett] admits earlier in her brief to requesting three of these transfers; an examination of her deposition, and evidence in the record, shows that she requested or consented to six of them,” the city’s brief states.

Concerning Burnett’s allegation of unfair performance reviews, the city denies that her negative reviews were bias-motivated or based on gender stereotyping.

The city also argues that factual disputes about the motivation for the negative reviews should be decided by a jury.

“There is at the least a fact issue with regard to whether [Burnett’s] performance was adequate,” the city’s brief states.

Burnett has worked for the city’s library system since 1991.

Accompanying the city’s brief are numerous exhibits detailing a wide range of complaints lodged against Burnett over the years.

Burnett’s suit contends that many of the complaints are frivolous.

The complaints run the gamut — that Burnett “grunted” too loudly when defecating, that she spoke with her mouth full during lunch, that she was lazy, that she referred to a transgender lesbian as a “transbian,” that she spoke about “black hardship” too frequently, that she would “cry all day” after hearing male-chauvinist remarks and that she asked a co-worker how deep her vagina should be.

Complaints that Burnett used vulgar language when confronting a supervisor — and that she hit a coworker with a book and called her a “stupid bitch” — resulted in short periods of suspension.

According to court papers, Burnett apologized profusely for the book incident, explaining that it was due to frustration because the coworker continually referred to her as a male.

Burnett’s court filings also note that coworkers hurled slurs at her, including “nigger,” “devil,” “man in women’s clothing,” “monster” and “freak.”

At presstime, the case is pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski.

Neither side had a comment for this story.

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