A gay man who says he was fired for attempting to place an intern in Rep. Barney Frank's Washington office has sued the country's largest academic internship program for sexual orientation discrimination.
David Halpern, a former program supervisor at the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, claims he was fired for objecting when his boss refused to place an intern from a conservative Christian college who was interested in gay rights in the office of openly gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank.
According to the suit, Halpern received an internship application last fall from a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., who listed an interest in gay rights. Halpern sent the application to Frank's office, but an adviser at the college told the student that he did not want him interning in a "homosexual environment." Halpern's supervisor directed him to assign the student to work elsewhere, apparently based on the faculty adviser's orders. Halpern protested and was fired the next day. "He was told that he was let go due to staffing reductions, but Mr. Halpern believes that there is no evidence to show that any other employee was terminated at that time, and in fact it appears that new employees were subsequently added," said S. Micah Salb, Halpern's attorney.
Frank demanded an explanation in a letter to William Burke, president of the Washington Center. "The central point of this is unhappiness at the assertion that my office was deemed an unacceptable one for a student who had expressed interest in gay rights," Frank wrote. "My additional concern is that the individual who had recommended the placement lost his job in circumstances that make me fear that his having acknowledged being gay and having been an advocate for placing an intern with me may have played some role in his dismissal."
According to Salb, Halpern had come out to his supervisors about his sexual orientation after receiving reports that a gay intern had felt unwelcome. In order to help future interns feel more comfortable, Halpern asked his supervisors to add a reference about his volunteer work for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign to staff biographies available to incoming students. Halpern's supervisors allegedly told him they did not want him to become a "poster child" for gay rights.
During his time at the Washington Center, Halpern received very positive reviews, was promoted to permanent status in August 2002, and received a performance-related salary increase shortly before being fired, Salb added.