A gay man has charged in a lawsuit filed on Friday that he was fired in April from his job at the Library of Congress after being harassed and humiliated for more than a year by a supervisor who repeatedly quoted biblical passages condemning homosexuality.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges that management analyst Peter TerVeer, 30, suffered employment discrimination based on his gender, gender stereotyping and his religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The lawsuit charges that his supervisor John Mech and library official Nicholas Christopher, Mech’s immediate supervisor, further violated Title VII by retaliating against TerVeer when he attempted to challenge their actions in an internal library complaint.
“Mech imposed his sex stereotypes and fundamentalist religious beliefs on homosexuality upon the plaintiff, resulting in a hostile working environment,” the lawsuit alleges.
In addition, the suit charges the library with violating TerVeer’s Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection; violating an internal Library of Congress policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and religious beliefs; and violating the Library of Congress Act, a federal law that calls for the library to consider decisions related to employees “solely” on an employee’s “fitness” for his or her job duties.
Library of Congress spokesperson Gale Osterberg said the library has no immediate comment on the lawsuit. She said the library’s official response would come in the form of a legal brief filed in court that addresses each of the allegations made in the lawsuit. Under court rules, the Library of Congress has 60 days to file its response from the time TerVeer’s attorneys serve the library with an official copy of the lawsuit.
In April, when TerVeer and his attorney disclosed that TerVeer had filed a complaint against Mech and other officials with the library’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, which adjudicates employment discrimination cases, Osterberg said TerVeer’s case was a personnel matter and the library never comments on personnel matters pertaining to an individual employee.
She told the Blade at that time that under library rules, neither Mach, an accountant and lead auditor for the library’s Office of the Inspector General, where TerVeer worked, nor any other library employee familiar with TerVeer’s case, would be permitted to comment on the case.
When asked about a Library of Congress internal policy adopted in the 1990s that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, Osterberg said only that, “We adhere to Title VII, period.”
She was referring to the provision in the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and other criteria but not on sexual orientation.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU’s Washington, D.C. office, said TerVeer’s lawsuit’s claim that Mech and other Library of Congress officials violated Title VII by discriminating against TerVeer based on his sex and religious beliefs could make him eligible for relief under Title VII.
Spitzer noted that a U.S. District Court judge in D.C. ruled in 2008 that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against a transgender woman on grounds of sex discrimination. Spitzer’s ACLU office represented the transgender woman, Diane Schroer, in the case along with the ACLU’s LGBT Rights Project.
The ACLU called the judge’s action “a groundbreaking decision that found that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.”
Spitzer said TerVeer’s case could potentially result in expanding the scope of Title VII, the federal civil rights statute, to cover gay people if the court issues a favorable decision on TerVeer’s lawsuit.
But Spitzer noted that unless the case is appealed by the library and an appeals court upholds the lower court decision, the favorable ruling would only apply to TerVeer.
Schroer was a retired and highly decorated Army colonel assigned to the Army Airborne Rangers before she applied for a Library of Congress job as a terrorism research analyst. The library hired her before reversing its decision and turning her down for the job when it learned she was transitioning from a man to a woman.
In its ruling against the library, the court ordered the library to pay Schroer nearly $500,000 in compensation for the discrimination it found the library to have committed. Schroer chose not to take the job there.
TerVeer is being represented for his lawsuit by attorneys Christopher Brown and Glen Ackerman of Ackerman Brown, PLLC; and Thomas Simeone of Simeone & Miller. (Ackerman Brown, PLLC also represents the Washington Blade in legal matters.)
The lawsuit says that when TerVeer began his job in February 2008 as a management auditor in the auditing division of the Library of Congress Office of the Inspector General, his work was well received and he soon received promotions.
The lawsuit says Mech and TerVeer had a cordial, professional relationship until Mach discovered TerVeer was gay in August 2009.
“Mech facilitated an introduction to his single daughter, Katie Mech, and the two became ‘friends’ on the social networking website Facebook in January 2009,” the lawsuit says.
It says that in August 2009 TerVeer missed noticing that Facebook changed its privacy settings, enabling Facebook friends to see certain postings on his site that previously could not be seen by people other than those he allowed to see them. One of the postings was a page linked to a group that supports gay fathers and advocates for ending discrimination against gay parents.
When Katie Mech apparently saw the “gay” link on TerVeer’s Facebook page she wrote him a message saying, “Don’t tell me you’re weird like that,” the lawsuit says. It says TerVeer responded offline by confirming that he was gay but noting that he was not “weird,” the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, from that time going forward John Mach dramatically changed his attitude toward TerVeer in a negative way, leading TerVeer to believe Katie Mach told her father he was gay.
“Now, at the beginning of almost every work-related conversation, Mech would engage in a religious lecture to the point where it became clear that Mech was targeting TerVeer by imposing his conservative Catholic beliefs on TerVeer throughout the workday,” the lawsuit says. “TerVeer proclaims a Christian faith, but one that is accepting of his sexual orientation,” says the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that on June 21, 2010 Mech called TerVeer into an unscheduled meeting and delivered a stern lecture to “educate” TerVeer on “hell” and the sin of homosexuality.
Mech began reciting Bible verses to TerVeer, the lawsuit says, telling him, “I hope you repent because the Bible is very clear about what God does to homosexuals.” The lawsuit says Mech went on to quote the biblical passage of Leviticus that says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman…they must be put to death.”
TerVeer charges in the lawsuit that Mech, with help from Mech’s supervisor, Nicholas Christopher, “continued to manufacture a negative paper trail” to downgrade TerVeer’s work performance ratings. The lawsuit says this was an effort to justify Mech’s alleged goal of orchestrating TerVeer’s termination from his job.
“TerVeer was subjected to a hostile work environment and continued harassment from Mech based upon religious affiliation, sex stereotyping, and sexual orientation,” the lawsuit says. Christopher, Mech, and other supervisors failed to inform TerVeer of his right to file a discrimination claim and retaliated against TerVeer because he sought to and ultimately did file a discrimination claim, the suit says.
“The work environment became too hostile for TerVeer to continue working under Mech or Christopher’s supervision, and his requests for transfer were denied,” the lawsuit says. “TerVeer was constructively terminated on April 6, 2012 because he was unable to return to a workplace where he had to confront constant discriminatory treatment from Mech and Christopher.”
The suit calls for injunctive relief, including reinstatement and an “order restraining defendant from engaging in further discriminatory conduct…”
It calls for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, including for emotional distress, and reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and other court related costs. The suit doesn’t seek a specific dollar amount for damages and compensation and other costs, saying the amounts would be determined at trial.