Judge refuses to dismiss transgender's lawsuit
December 23 2004 12:00 AM ET
A federal judge in Spokane, Wash., has refused to dismiss a lawsuit in which a U.S. Border Patrol employee who is undergoing a sex change has sued the government for discrimination. U.S. district judge Robert H. Whaley ruled against the motion by the federal government, allowing the lawsuit filed by Tracy Nichole Sturchio, formerly known as Ronald Sturchio, to proceed.
The defendant is the Department of Homeland Security. Attorneys for the federal government had argued that past decisions held that transsexuals were not members of a protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That landmark federal law made it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex, religion, race, or national origin. The government contended that Sturchio in her lawsuit never identified her sex, contending only that she was a "transgender person."
But Whaley said she was being harassed because her coworkers wanted her to act like a male. "It is clear from reading the complaint that [the] plaintiff is asserting that she is being harassed and discriminated against because her coworkers considered her as a biological male and wanted her to act like one," the judge wrote in his ruling Monday. "I thought it was strange," Sturchio, 56, said Tuesday about the federal government's contention. Trial is set for May 9 unless the government appeals Whaley's decision.
Sturchio has been on hormone therapy and last August also underwent sexual reassignment surgery in Colorado, she said. She said she has new supervisors at work and is no longer being harassed. Sturchio's lawsuit said she was not allowed to wear a dress to work or use the women's bathroom and has been subjected to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. The lawsuit seeks $500,000 for compensatory and punitive damages, along with an unspecified amount for mental anguish and emotional distress.
Sturchio has been employed by the Border Patrol since 1991 and has worked at the Spokane office since July 1998. She is still employed as a telecommunications specialist at the Border Patrol office in Spokane. Sturchio supervised a crew of four employees assigned to install and maintain the patrol's telecommunications equipment, the lawsuit says. Sturchio was born a male but has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, according to court documents.
The alleged harassment began in February 2000 when two Border Patrol employees suggested a union steward conduct a survey "regarding Sturchio's physical condition and feminine appearance," the lawsuit said.