Thursday, April 29, 2010

Patricia Underwood Discrimination Case

TransGriot Note: Since ENDA is languishing in committee right now, thought I'd bring up this piece of African-American trans history that I discovered in the digitized JET magazine archives. It was reported in JET Magazine's June 27, 1994 issue, using proper pronouns I might add.

It once again drives home the point that not only do African descended transpeople exist, the issues we face ain't nothing new, and in many cases we took positive action to fight back.

Patricia Underwood transitioned and underwent SRS in 1982, but found herself a decade later embroiled in a legal battle after being dismissed from her receptionist job because in their words 'she looked too much like a man'.

Then 31 year old Washington DC resident Patricia Underwood sued New York City based Archer Management Services Inc., a New York City-based firm with a Washington DC office where she was employed.

Because federal laws do not (and still don't) properly protect transpeople against discrimination, Underwood flied suit in U.S. District Court under the broader D.C. Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance.

She alleged in her suit she was fired because because she is a transsexual and retains some masculine traits such as her large bone structure.

Gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, schools, housing and public accommodations were added to the DC law in 2006.

"I just want to stand up and say that I am not a freak, but a person," said Underwood at the time. "I was doing the work they asked me to do well, and I don't deserve to be treated like that because of my looks."

Archer in a statement according to JET, said it "vigorously denies any allegations of wrongdoing made by Patricia Underwood." It said it believes that her claim of discrimination based on personal appearance is, "without merit ... and that all of Archer's actions related to Patricia Underwood were wholly lawful and nondiscriminatory."

The Underwood v. Archer Management Services, Inc. case was the first effort to determine if the 1977 DC Human Rights Law's looks-oriented discrimination provision applied to transsexuals.

Archer moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, arguing that the Act does not forbid discrimination against transsexuals. U.S. District Judge Richey disagreed, at least in part, finding that Underwood's factual allegations arguably stated a claim of discrimination on the basis of personal appearance (i.e., the reference to "masculine traits").

Richey followed well-established Title VII precedent at the time in dismissing that portion of the complaint based on sex discrimination. Interestingly, he also dismissed the portion based on sexual orientation discrimination, finding that none of Underwood's factual allegations raised any issue about her sexual orientation (and implicitly recognizing that sexual orientation and transsexuality are distinct phenomena). 1994 WL 369468 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.C., July 12).

Note to all you GL people claiming transpeople are covered under 'sexual orientation language' when y'all move to cut us out of legislation. This case says it doesn't.

Did Patricia Underwood receive justice? Still trying to find out if that case was eventually resolved to her and her attorney Wayne Cohen's satisfaction.

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