April 3, 2014 at 9:39 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Judge refuses to dismiss bias case against Library of Congress
Peter TerVeer, gay news, gay politics dc

Peter TerVeer was allegedly subjected to harassment based on his sexual orientation while working at the Library of Congress. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A federal judge on March 31 ruled that a gay man who sued the Library of Congress for firing him in 2012 because of his sexual orientation has legal standing to claim he’s entitled to protection under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a 34-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied a motion by the U.S. Attorney for D.C. that the discrimination lawsuit filed by former Library of Congress management analyst Peter TerVeer should be dismissed on summary judgment.

Kollar-Kotelly rejected the U.S. Attorney’s assertion that TerVeer failed to show he has standing to pursue his claim that he’s covered under the U.S. Civil Rights Act on grounds that he was subjected to illegal sex discrimination based on gender stereotyping as a gay man.

In a split ruling, Kollar-Kotelly granted the U.S. Attorney’s request to dismiss other claims by the lawsuit that the Library of Congress violated TerVeer’s constitutional rights as well as violated Library of Congress regulations and policies.

But according to TerVeer’s attorney, Christopher Brown of the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown, the ruling upholding TerVeer’s ability to move ahead to trial on the Title VII grounds is an important development for gay rights.

“We are pleased that we will have the opportunity to develop these claims and present them in court,” Brown told the Blade. “In my opinion this represents movement forward for the LGBT community bringing us one large step closer to equal treatment under Title VII.”

He noted that had Kollar-Kotelly dismissed the lawsuit’s claim seeking redress under Title VII, as the U.S. Attorney had urged, the opportunity to push for Title VII protection for gay people would have been lost in this case.

Title VII of the famed 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and, according to recent court rulings, gender identity, but not sexual orientation by itself.

With legislation calling for banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity stalled in Congress, gay rights attorneys have argued in cases similar to TerVeer’s that lesbians and gay men are covered under Title VII. The attorneys, including those with Lambda Legal, claim that anti-gay discrimination is based on sex discrimination – which is covered under Title VII – because its perpetrators perceive gay people as not conforming to traditional gender roles.

In prior decisions, federal courts have ruled that transgender people are covered under Title VII’s prohibitions against sex discrimination.

In his lawsuit, TerVeer charges that he was fired after being harassed and humiliated by a supervisor who repeatedly quoted biblical passages condemning homosexuality.

The lawsuit says although TerVeer was targeted because he’s gay, he encountered employment discrimination and harassment based on his gender, gender stereotyping and his religious beliefs, which he says didn’t conform to those of supervisor John Mech.

Mech and library officials have declined to comment on TerVeer’s allegations, saying they are bound by a Library of Congress policy of not discussing pending litigation.

Brown said the judge’s decision to grant the government’s motion to dismiss the constitutional and other legal claims by the lawsuit don’t pose a significant disadvantage to the case. He said those claims had been made as a backup in the event that the court dismissed the Title VII claims.

“As Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant denied him promotions and created a hostile work environment because of Plaintiff’s nonconformity with male sex stereotypes, Plaintiff has met his burden of settling forth ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief’ as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure,” Kollar-Kotelly said in her ruling.

“Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim (Count I) for failure to state a claim,” the judge stated in her ruling.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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