A cook who claims
he was fired from a fancy Westchester,
N.Y., restaurant when coworkers discovered he is a
biological woman is protected by the state's human
rights law, a judge has ruled. State supreme court
justice Joan Lefkowitz held that although discrimination
against a transgender person is not specifically listed in
the law—which does mention racial, religious,
and sexual discrimination—it is covered
The ruling means
that Eric Buffong's $3 million lawsuit can go forward.
"Transgender" is an umbrella term that covers
cross-dressers, transsexuals, and other people whose
outward appearance doesn't match their gender at
birth. Their protected status "really wasn't settled
law before this," Louis Ginsberg, Buffong's attorney, said
His client, a
27-year-old from White Plains, was born Erica but changed
his name seven years ago. Buffong was working at the
jackets-required Equus restaurant in Tarrytown until
2005, when a coworker found a high school yearbook
photo showing him as Erica. He was mocked by fellow
employees, his name was changed to Erica on the work
schedule, his hours were cut, and he was fired within
four months, the lawsuit says.
"Prior to that I
was the chef's number 1 guy," Buffong told the
Daily News. "Just because I was born a
female and I chose to be a male, it's a problem now?"
Castle on the
Hudson, the hotel that houses Equus, asked Lefkowitz to
dismiss the case, but she noted that courts had found that
New York City's human rights law protected transgender
people even before that law was amended to
specifically include them.
Lefkowitz's ruling will now apply throughout New York State
as well as to Buffong's case. "It's certainly a positive
development," he said. Buffong "was very pleased," he added.
lawyer, Robert Pitkofsky, did not return a call seeking
comment. Executive chef David Haviland denied that Buffong
was fired for being transgender. "We are good people,
and we wouldn't do anything that is unscrupulous like
that," he told the News.
No court date has
been set for the case. (AP)