Transgender veteran can sue Library of Congress

by Bob Roehr

WASHINGTON, D.C. -

A federal judge has rejected arguments to throw out an employment lawsuit brought by a decorated transgender veteran against the Library of Congress. The Nov. 28 ruling means that Diane Schroer's case will move forward.

Schroer had a twenty-five year career in the Army. The last third was in special operations, eventually leading a top secret 120-person group charged with tracking and targeting high-threat international terrorist targets. Upon retirement, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a part of the Library of Congress, was seeking to hire a research analyst on terrorism. Schroer seemed to be a perfect fit.

The Library coveted the mix of boots on the ground and command level experience that the it seldom can hire, and it made a job offer to Schroer at the end of 2004. Over lunch with Library official Charlotte Preece, Schroer said he was under a doctor's care for gender dysphoria, was in the process of transitioning, and would begin work presenting as a woman, Diane.

The next day, "after a long, restless night," Preece called Schroer to withdraw the offer of employment. She said Diane would not be a "good fit" with the Library or Congress.

"Did I want to just give it up and walk away? Turn tail and run, or fight it?" Schroer weighed the options for about three hours and decided to fight it.

"After risking my life for more than 25 years for my country, I'd been told I'm not worthy of the freedoms I worked so hard to protect," she said during an extended interview in the summer of 2005. "All I'm asking is to be judged by my abilities rather than my gender."

Schroer sought legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They first tried internal administrative appeals at the Library and when those failed, filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC.

Schroer claimed that she was discriminated against because, when presenting herself as a woman, she did not conform to Preece's sex stereotypes. In this latest round of legal arguments, Judge James Robertson agreed that her claim fits within the definition of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

He also rejected the Library's claim that "sex" is simply a matter of chromosomes. Citing case law he said, the Supreme Court has made clear that "'sex' encompasses both the biological differences between men and women, and gender discrimination, that is, discrimination based on a failure to conform to stereotypical gender norms."

The court deferred ruling on the broader question of whether Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination also includes discrimination based on gender identity.

Schroer was pleased by the opinion. She said, "Today's decision makes me proud that I served a country that values equality and fairness."

ACLU staff attorney Sharon McGowan, who argued the case, said, "The court sent a very clear message that employers can be held liable when they make decisions about whom to hire based on stereotypical views about gender as opposed to merit."

The legal proceedings will continue to grind on, unless the Library decides to acknowledge its error and hire Schroer.

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