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Laurie, Allie, Michelle, Kate, Jen, Isabella, Liza, Kara, Perette, Shanta, .M., Christine, Joan, Jules, Paula, and Andrea,
I am including each of you in this e-mail. This is not a mass-mailing. I know each of you implicitly, and I value and respect your judgments. And this is why I’m writing. Something very serious has come up in my workplace which I feel may be in violation of my civil rights, and I need your opinion, observation, insight and advice on the matter. I am in a position where I’m not sure what step to take next; however, it may seem possible that legal action lies ahead.
Some of you may be aware of this. My company transferred the department I work in from Rochester, New York to St. Paul, Minnesota this summer. I was asked to accompany the products that were making the move westward, which I accepted. Six weeks ago, after a series of business trips in which I trained the Minnesota employees on our products, I relocated to the Twin Cities.
On my first official day in office, about an hour after I arrived, I was called into the department supervisor’s office in regards to “settling a matter”. As he closed his door, he began to explain that Human Resources wanted to talk to me about which restroom I should use, which took me very off guard. After he stated that he really didn’t care either way about the issue, he suggested that we make the trip down to HR and take up discussion with the person who called the meeting in the first place.
When we arrived at Lewis’s office (Lewis is the Manager of Employee Services in Human Resources, or something to that level…he alleged that he was in charge of legal affairs in HR), he explained that there were “several people” who had expressed their discontent with my use of the women’s washroom (following this meeting, it was discovered that perhaps only one person waged a complaint, contrary to the ambiguous number of complaints Lewis claims). He said that he had spoken with other people in HR, without disclosing names, and had come to a decision prior to the meeting that I was to use one of two ‘unisex’ washrooms in the entire campus.
This campus contains roughly seventy-two washrooms, all sexes included. While the structure is only six floors, it takes almost ten minutes to walk completely across the building and has more square footage that any one of the New York World Trade Centres.
The nearest facility I would have access to, according to Lewis’s insistence, is roughly a quarter kilometre away from my cubicle, which requires about five minutes of walking. In his words, “On balance, I believe our decision best recognizes and respects the rights, interests and concerns of all concerned.”
Any chance I would have had to negotiate with Lewis was in essence a moot point before I even stepped into his office. He made it very clear that it mattered not that I have identified as female for a very long time, that I am and have been legally recognized in my home state as female for over a couple of years, and that in the state of Minnesota, transgendered rights (amongst all other standard civil rights) are protected in employment practises as well as equal housing, unique to any state or province. He had pre-decided his move long before we had met. Moreover, I told him that never before has anyone questioned my identity or the identity of anyone I personally know in this manner. In response, I told him that I did not agree with this unwritten decision, based only upon a small, anonymous group who harbour a prejudice arising from ignorance and misunderstanding against my right to access washroom facilities.
What ensued following this meeting, which he claimed the matter was then discussed with an unnamed consortium of other HR people, was an e-mail from Lewis which firmly reiterated his pre-determined decision that my access to washrooms are limited to the previously-mentioned two in the campus. He followed up by saying, “while this solution may not please everyone, on balance, it recognizes and respects the rights, interests and concerns of all employees”.
In short, I replied with organized discontent and dissension, by saying that, “While I vehemently oppose and disagree with the decision, as it does fail to recognise my rights as an individual, and thus, does *not* satisfy my rights, interests and concerns as an employee with Thomson [Corporation], I am left with little choice in this matter but to reluctantly comply with the decision.” I expressed concern that I felt like special treatment was being administered on behalf of me, and in such case, I would have difficulty tolerating this. And I left him with an informal ultimatum, stating that, “If this issue cannot be resolved on a permanent level, where all parties involved can find a degree of satisfaction with compromise, I may have to resort to consulting with independent counsel specialised in civil and individual rights issues.”
I offered both in person and in writing, alternative compromises which included access to the women’s washroom facility nearest to my department or being able to address the issue directly to the complainants in a tolerant environment. I erred more to the latter, in the reasoning that education best negates ignorance and prejudice. I told Lewis that I am very tolerant to others’ intolerance, and I try to work with anyone who does not understand me. He clearly stated that neither of these suggestions were an option.
In the next (and last) response he made in e-mail, he reiterated his decision. He then proceeded to quote judicial references from older Supreme Court rulings; for example, he referred to the ruling that an individual cannot scream “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre ergo the act may endanger the safety of others. He also paraphrased a ruling that a person’s right to swing his [sic] fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose, again implying the threat of safety to others. I made very clear to him that my presence in a space does not endanger the safety of others…aside from pointing out that his paraphrasings were sorely out of context. I also asked him what I was to do in emergency situations, or if I grew very sick and could not make it to the “designated” washrooms in time? He did not answer to my second response, in which I addressed our company harassment policy, stating which sections he was violating. I reiterated again that my civil rights had been illegally infringed upon.
I made the decision, in light of his inability or refusal to reply, to not recognise his ruling. I regarded his silence as a means of passively standing down. So, in these last six weeks, I have accessed the women’s washroom nearest to my cubicle as I would in any other time, and for that matter, as anyone else might. Yesterday, as I was returning from holiday out of town, I was told by my immediate supervisor that Lewis wanted to talk to me again, along with the department supervisor who accompanied me in the first meeting.
Lewis appeared incensed by my presence. He immediately came out to say that I had been told “by others” that I continued to make use of the women’s facilities, which I concurred. He said, “I thought we understood where we were at in our last meeting.”
At this point, I cited that he had never responded to my e-mail, which addressed my refusal to comply and which also demanded a reply on his behalf. He then proceeded to invoke a threat of action, saying, “If you continue to use the women’s washroom, instead of the designated washrooms, we will take corrective action against you.”
At this time, it became clear to me that Lewis had long stopped listening to me, as every observation I addressed to him was fired back with “That is your opinion”, which I would accordingly reply with either, “No this is an observation…” (as in “my rights are being violated”) or by agreeing that “Yes, this is my opinion.” His method of discourse was very aggressive and callous, and he made it clear that he would not listen to my dissension. Yes, I did maintain composure throughout our confrontation, without raising my voice or turning curt with him, and I admit it was not an easy thing for me to do.
Since he had failed to address the safety of access issue in e-mail, I brought it up in person. He responded that he would worry about that as the time came, at which point, I interjected that there wouldn’t *be* time in such emergency situations and that these situations do happen. He refused to dignify further comment.
My immediate supervisors did not utter a word in this meeting.
In a point of sympathy, I asked the three in the room, “Have you stopped to consider how you might feel in this situation, if someone told you that you’re forbidden from going somehwere?” [sic]
Lewis said, with stern tone, “Listen, I grew up Black in the South. I know about racism, prejudice, lynchings…”
I cut him off, saying, “And yes, I know about hate crimes, being stalked, intolerance, prejudice and phobia all too well. Moreover, I’m *not* making this an issue of race. Don’t start.”
Once I realised that the confrontation was degenerating to his semantics and his refusal to listen to my concerns, I looked at him, and I said, “I really wish you had not said what you have in here today.” I stood up and excused myself, leaving the other three behind in his office.
I’m at impasse. I am a little scared right now, but I feel I know what needs to be done…which explains my fear completely. I chance losing my job, which, it itself, is not a big deal in the long run, but I risk to sacrifice my financial security in the short term. I have gone through the periods of not having money to eat or pay the bills, and I do not wish to regress to that. I am fortunately looking outside for alternate offers, and the good news is there are interviews I will be attending next week with prospective employers. Regardless, if I do step into a women’s washroom (this is beginning to sound ridiculous), Lewis may attempt to fire me, which might be what has to be done before I can talk to legal experts in civil matters. I would presume that contacting the American Civil Liberties Union would be a prudent step, but I understand that they are not a legal consulting firm. I guess my question to you all is this: what would you do in this situation? Would you call an attourney? [sic] Would you take the matter to suit? Would you know people already versed in civil rights matters that you could reach? Have the way I handled the issue, based on your understanding of the matter, been unprofessional or not the best way in dealing with it?
In the next couple of days, I will be taking very ginger steps towards coming to a final decision. If I do accept an offer with another organisation, should I sod Lewis’s ruling and use the washrooms anyway, chancing to being caught? If so, and if he were to fire me, then would that be grounds for discrimination?
Forgive my pure lack of brevity in this letter. I hope that you each will have some thoughts on this matter which may make sense of it all, if not help me come to a good decision. Again, I write you all because I value your opinions highly. For now, I will knock on wood and try to take this one step at a time.
I want to thank you all.
postscript: if you’d like to call me at home, my number is 612.374.2416.