Transman Brings Suit Against NJ Employer In Wake of Firing

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday April 11, 2011

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) has sued a New Jersey-based company, claiming that the employer summarily fired a trans employee in violation of state law.

The job entailed "monitoring" compliance with mandated providing of urine samples, and was open only to men. When the company discovered that the man it had hired for the spot had been born a woman, his employment was promptly terminated, according to an April 11 TLDEF media release.

The rights organization filed the suit on April 8.

"This is the first lawsuit to challenge the firing of a transgender person from a job where being male or female is a job qualification," the release noted.

"In June 2010, defendant Urban Treatment Associates LLC, based in Camden, New Jersey, hired plaintiff El'Jai Devoureau as a urine monitor for men. His job responsibilities included monitoring male outpatients as they provided urine samples for drug testing," the release continued. "On his second day of work, Urban Treatment was told that Mr. Devoureau had transitioned from female to male and fired him on the spot.

"The lawsuit challenges Urban Treatment's termination of Mr. Devoureau as a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which protects transgender people from employment discrimination," the release adds. "In filings before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Urban Treatment claimed Mr. Devoureau was not male and therefore not qualified for the job."

"This lawsuit challenges the discriminatory view that transgender men cannot work as men," said Michael Silverman, the group's executive director. "El'Jai was qualified for the job and he performed it without complaint or incident," Silverman continued. "What matters in the workplace is how you do your job, not who you are."

"Transgender people face tremendous discrimination in the workplace," noted the release. "Forty-seven percent of transgender people report being fired, or denied a job or promotion, just because of who they are."

"I needed this job to support myself and my family. In this economy, jobs are really hard to find," Devoureau stated. "They were happy to have me work there until they heard about my transition. I'm a hard worker and it's unfair that I was fired over something that has nothing to do with how well I did the job."

An April 8 New York Times article reported that all of Devoureau's government-issued documents show that he is legally male, having completed gender transition in 2006.

"As long as I've been a person, I've lived as a man," Devoureau told the New York Times. "At age 5, I did everything a boy did: I climbed trees, I played football, I played with trucks. Most of the people in my life, all they know is I'm male."

When his supervisor approached him, having been told that the new employee was transgender, Devoureau sought to keep the issue strictly on the legal and professional plane. "I said I was male, and she asked if I had any surgeries," Devoureau told the publication. "I said that was private and I didn't have to answer, and I was fired."

Devoureau took his complaint to the state's civil rights authority. The company then stated that his termination "was not motivated by, nor related in any way to, any discriminatory intention." The company also claimed that "since the sex of the employee engaged in that particular job position is a bona fide occupational qualification," civil rights protections did not apply in this case.

But Devoureau and TLDEF disagree, and take exception to the suggestion that Devoureau--despite his legal gender status--is not a man.

"They were judging me for who I am, not for the job I was being asked to do, and that's wrong, and I was hurt," Devoureau told the Times. "I'm doing this so everyone knows it's wrong, so it doesn't happen to anyone else."

The article noted that twelve states, including New Jersey, extend anti-discrimination protections to transgender people.

"Garden State Equality wrote and steered to enactment the state law upon which this lawsuit is based--the law banning discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression," a release from the New Jersey GLBT equality group says. "Then-Governor Corzine signed the bill into law in December 2006."

In Massachusetts, where transgender protections are not a matter of law, legislators have come under pressure from the faith community to extend such protections.

Among the faith leaders seeking comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was state Episcopalian head Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, who told the newspaper that fully 25% of transgender Massachusetts residents had faced a loss of employment due to their gender identity. Almost all transgender citizens of the state had been harassed in some manner, he said.

"Supporting this legislation, and supporting transgender people in the life of the church and in secular society really has to do with the living out of my baptismal covenant," Shaw told the Boston Globe in an April 5 article.

The bill would cover transgender victims of bias crimes and ban discrimination based on gender identity in the areas of housing, education, and public accommodation, among others.

State Rep. Carl Sciortino recollected how the bill had attracted strong legislative support from lawmakers in both the state house and the state senate--but no action was taken to advance the bill after a candidate for the governor's office, Charles Baker, chose the bill as a means of making political hay.

Calling it the "bathroom bill," Baker played on fears that such a bill could give sex criminals the opportunity to infiltrate women's restrooms and prey on underage girls or rape adult women.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.