With no public notice, a gay man last December agreed to settle a potentially groundbreaking gay rights lawsuit he filed in 2012 accusing the Library of Congress of violating the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 by firing him because of his sexual orientation and gender.
A document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Dec. 8, 2015, says former Library of Congress management analyst Peter TerVeer, 33, and representatives of the library agreed that TerVeer would ask the court to dismiss the case in exchange for a payment of $235,000.
“This payment is in full and final satisfaction of all of plaintiff’s claims in this case,” according to an 11-page Joint Stipulation of Settlement and Dismissal document, which is part of the court’s public records.
TerVeer and government attorneys representing the library jointly drafted the stipulation document. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly signed the document three days later when she dismissed the case on Dec. 11.
Although TerVeer’s attorneys called two news conferences to announce the filing of his lawsuit in August 2012, no public announcement and no known media coverage accompanied the decision to settle the case in December.
“[T]his stipulation is not intended and shall not be deemed an admission by either party of the merit or lack of merit of the opposing party’s claims and defenses,” the document states.
“Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, this stipulation does not constitute, and shall not be construed as, an admission that defendant, the agency, or any of the agency’s present or former employees or agents violated any of plaintiff’s rights or any laws or regulations, or as an admission of any contested fact alleged by plaintiff in connection with this case or otherwise,” it says.
TerVeer charged in his lawsuit that his supervisor, John Mech, subjected him to a hostile work environment after discovering he was gay by, among other things, repeatedly quoting biblical passages condemning homosexuality during work related office conversations.
The lawsuit says library officials denied TerVeer’s repeated requests to be transferred to another assignment in an office not under Mech’s supervision. It says Mech, meanwhile, gave him work assignments he knew TerVeer wasn’t trained for in a thinly veiled effort to set him up to fail and receive negative performance reviews.
The stress caused by the hostile work environment prompted TerVeer’s doctor to advise him to take an extended medical leave, the lawsuit says. It says that although library officials agreed to his request for disability leave he was fired after his leave time expired and he did not return to work.
The lawsuit called for the Library of Congress to reinstate TerVeer to his job, provide him with back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for is emotional distress, and an order prohibiting Mech from harassing and discriminating against him.
A Library of Congress spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations at the time it was filed, saying the library never discusses internal personnel matters or matters under litigation.
Gay rights attorneys considered the case important because a ruling affirming that anti-gay employment discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and is covered under the famed 1964 Civil Rights Act, as TerVeer maintained in his lawsuit, could potentially lead to full employment non-discrimination protection for lesbians and gay men nationwide.
The case received national attention in April 2014 when Kollar-Kotelly denied a motion to dismiss the case filed by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which represented the Library of Congress. The motion asserted that TerVeer failed to show he has legal standing to pursue his claim that he’s covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act on grounds that he was subjected to illegal sex discrimination based on gender stereotyping as a gay man.
Jon Davidson, national legal director of the LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal, which filed a friend of the court brief in support of TerVeer’s lawsuit, said the settlement eliminates any chance of an appeals court setting a legal precedent in the case confirming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers gays and lesbians.
However, Davidson said at least five other pending cases with which Lambda Legal is involved could bring about the same result.
“All of these cases also present the issue of sexual orientation based employment discrimination as a form of sex discrimination barred by Title VII,” he said in referring to a clause in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“We understand that private parties may settle a case for many reasons, including not wanting to expend further resources on it or further delay a recovery,” Davidson told the Washington Blade on Sunday.
“We have no specific information about the settlement and no comment other than to thank Mr. TerVeer and his counsel for having filed the case, which resulted in a positive district court decision in 2014 finding that Mr. TerVeer sufficiently alleged cognizable sex discrimination under title VII to be entitled to proceed with his lawsuit,” said Davidson.
The settlement came 15 months after the two sides entered into court supervised mediation for a possible settlement in September 2014. The court docket shows that on Nov. 21, 2014, — three weeks after the mediation negotiations were scheduled to end — the lawsuit’s information gathering process known as discovery resumed, indicating that no settlement was reached and the case was moving forward to trial.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the government’s decision to pay TerVeer $235,000 is not an acknowledgement that the Library of Congress acted improperly in firing TerVeer. He pointed to the stipulation agreement’s assertion that the settlement was “entered into to resolve the matter and avoid the risks and burdens of continued litigation.”
Miller said the U.S. Attorney’s Office follows a longstanding federal regulation on open judicial proceedings.
“Most settlements involving the federal government are publicly available, pursuant to this regulation, which we adhere to,” he said.
Christopher Brown of the D.C. law firm Ackerman-Brown, who was part of the legal team representing TerVeer, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the ultimate decision to settle the case and why the settlement terms were made public.