David Baldwin is many things. He’s a 57-year-old New Orleans resident. He’s a former service member in the Navy. He’s in a seven-year-relationship with a same-sex partner he met through the Metropolitan Community Church.
He’s also responsible for the lawsuit that led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make clear anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is illegal in all 50 states and constitutes gender bias under existing civil rights law.
The plaintiff in the case of Complainant v. Foxx was kept confidential in the redacted decision from the agency. For the first time since the ruling, Baldwin makes his identity public in an interview with the Washington Blade.
“I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs,” Baldwin said. “That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty.”
Baldwin filed the lawsuit in 2012 against the Federal Aviation Administration when he learned he wasn’t selected for a permanent position as a frontline manager at Miami International Airport, alleging he experienced anti-gay harassment on the job.
For example, when talking with his co-workers about a trip he took to Mardi Gras with his partner, Baldwin’s supervisor allegedly said, “We don’t need to hear about that gay stuff.” On July 15, EEOC determined the law allowed Baldwin to bring a claim, ruling anti-gay discrimination was unlawful under gender provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Blade agreed to an email interview with Baldwin and his Miami-based attorney, Lowell Kuvin, on the basis that his litigation is ongoing. Although no information about the plaintiff was included in the EEOC decision, the agency and multiple parties confirmed Baldwin was responsible for it.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Baldwin’s achievement for the LGBT community is on par with an earlier decision from the EEOC determining transgender discrimination is unlawful under Title VII.
“Like Mia Macy before him, David Baldwin has made LGBT history by winning a tremendous legal victory that will benefit millions of LGBT Americans in all 50 states,” Almeida said. “Baldwin belongs in the LGBT history books with other brave plaintiffs who stood strong against harassment and discrimination. Now it’s time for more LGBT Americans to follow the lead of courageous people like Baldwin and Macy by filing claims under the sex discrimination bans in the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and other existing federal statutes.”
Q&A with David Baldwin
Washington Blade: Who is David Baldwin and what is his life like with his partner?
David Baldwin: David Baldwin is a 57-year-old gay man from Richmond, VA. I grew up in a blue collar family in a semi-rural county with two brothers and a sister, and always knew I was “special.”
At 18, I joined the Navy to escape the bigotry and racism of my youth, and made a new life for myself as a young gay man. I trained as a Navy air traffic controller and traveled the world on two aircraft carriers, the USS Ranger and USS Nimitz.
In 2004 I accepted a position in Pensacola, Fla., as a frontline Manager at the FAA approach control serving the Navy flight training command.
I met my partner Keith in 2008 thru friends from Holy Cross MCC Church in Pensacola. Keith is a great guy and means everything to me. He’s Italian, has a big funny family, is my best friend, and I can’t imagine my life without him.
We made the decision to return to MIA in 2010 to finish out my career. We moved back to Wilton Manors, attended this great big gay church, the Sunshine Cathedral MCC and made lots of friends there. As things began to change for the worse in my FAA career at MIA, I found that this church and my partner to be a great source of personal strength that carried me through some really difficult times.
After I retired due to age 56 mandatory retirement in December of 2013, we decided to move back to New Orleans. We bought a big funky old house in desperate need of repair. It has two window units, four dogs, two cats and lots of fans blowing hot air around, and life has never been better. Currently, we are working on reopening a health club that closed in New Orleans last year.
Blade: Tell me about the discrimination you experienced and how that made you feel. At what point did you decide to take action?
Baldwin: There was a change in upper management at MIA. Without warning, I realized there was a huge difference in how I was regarded. At first, I was puzzled. At this point I had almost 18 years as a manager and had seen a lot. I thought it was just a phase at first but it became clear to me that having a gay supervisor at MIA was not going to happen. I am not one to be toyed with and I started to document what was going on around me. I simply let those that had it out for me implicate themselves. When I was passed over for a job that I was the clear choice for, I filed the appropriate paperwork and let the facts speak for themselves.
Blade: When you filed the lawsuit, did you have any idea the outcome would be as big as it was in terms of its implications for other gay people?
Baldwin: I have a great attorney. He looked at the facts, believed in me, and my case, and let me know this was going to be a long battle. My response, Bring It ON! I was pissed that as a gay man I wasn’t covered under Title VII. Why not challenge this? We knew it was a long shot, and never expected anything like this, but Lowell is really sharp and his arguments prevailed in the end. We are both in total shock at the magnitude of the outcome.
Blade: Were you involved in any kind of LGBT advocacy work before you participated in this lawsuit?
Baldwin: I worked as a volunteer for the New Orleans AIDS Task force for four years during the late 90’s before moving to South Florida.
Blade: Going forward, what do you hope the ruling in your case will mean for other gay people and do you think it’ll help pass the Equality Act?
Baldwin: I hope and pray that this decision will be the impetus to help move the Equality Act forward. It almost seems tailored for that end. I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs. That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty. The LGBT community was never looking for ANY special consideration. We simply want the exact same protections as every other American citizen under already existing laws. Nothing more, nothing less.
While our community waits for the Equality Act to pass, I really hope LGBT Americans who face workplace discrimination will file Title VII cases with the EEOC and in federal court. People should know that under these new EEOC rulings, we have protections now, and you can stand up for yourself if you’re being harassed or discriminated against.
Q&A with Lowell Kuvin
Blade: There’s no explicit federal law on the books against sexual orientation discrimination. What made you think Mr. Baldwin had a case?
Kuvin: The FAA does have a specific regulation that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. However, after speaking with Mr. Baldwin and conducting some research it became very apparent to me Mr. Baldwin’s battle was going to be a difficult one. Mr. Baldwin understood his case could take months or even years to conclude and we both made the commitment to see it through to the end.
Blade: What are the next steps in Mr. Baldwin’s lawsuit? How long before it’s resolved and what do you expect that resolution will be?
Kuvin: After the EEOC decision came out Mr. Baldwin and I discussed several options available to him and the timeline as dictated by the EEOC and the procedural law for FAA discrimination complaints. The next step will most likely be to reach out to the FAA again and see if the Agency is willing to resolve Mr. Baldwin’s claims without litigation. I believe Mr. Baldwin’s demands are very reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances. I expect the FAA to do the right thing such as granting Mr. Baldwin’s promotion to the position he was denied retroactive, adjusting his back pay and retirement benefits accordingly, and compensating Mr. Baldwin for the humiliation and anguish he has experienced. If the FAA does not want to work to resolve the issues, then Mr. Baldwin will have no other option but to file the appropriate lawsuit. The amount of time it will take to resolve the issues is dependent on which path we are forced to take. Mr. Baldwin’s case could be resolved in six weeks or it could take six years. Regardless of the amount of time it takes, both Mr. Baldwin and my office are committed to seeing through to the end.
Blade: Would the additional sexual orientation and gender identity to federal non-discrimination workplace laws through means such as the Equality Act be a helpful tool, or are the existing protections sufficient going forward?
Kuvin: I believe that all employees need to be sufficiently protected against workplace discrimination and employees can never be “too protected.” I also believe that Title VII needs to be amended to specifically include LGBT employees because there are agencies in the United States that might “read around” the Baldwin v. Foxx decision and deny LGBT employees their equal rights. The Equality Act would be a logical place to start because the at the present time Baldwin v. Foxx does is not binding on courts throughout the United States, it is merely persuasive.
NOTE: This interview has been edited and condensed.