Transgender man sues over firing from male-only job

Apr 12 2011 - 9:43am

A transgender employee hired to oversee urine tests administered to men sued a Camden, N.J., drug-treatment center that fired him after it confronted him about his gender last summer.

El'Jai Devoureau, 39, said Urban Treatment Associates questioned him about his gender a day after he started the job, which had been open only to male candidates.

"Is El'Jai a male? The employer says no, and El'Jai says he is," said Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, which filed the discrimination lawsuit Friday. "He's undergone hormone treatment and surgery."

The case challenges an employer's right to eliminate transgender candidates for positions that the law says may be gender-specific. Silverman said he was unaware of any previous transgender-discrimination case that addressed the issue.

When his employer asked about his gender after he began work, Devoureau responded, "I am a man, and I can do the job. They said, 'You're fired,"' he said in an interview Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Devoureau, of Gloucester County, was hired in June to observe men depositing urine in cups for drug analysis. The supervision is to assure that the sample is fresh and not from another person.

The employer may require male workers for such a job, Silverman said.

In documents filed in January, after Devoureau filed a discrimination complaint with the state, the treatment center said it fired Devoureau because he was not a biological male. But it disputed that the termination was discriminatory.

"I've always lived as a male," Devoureau said. He has identified as male since about age 5 and has undergone treatment to transition, he said.

In 2006, Devoureau completed the documents required to change his gender for Social Security and for his New Jersey driver's license. Georgia also amended his birth certificate, he said.

After Devoureau began work, according to the lawsuit, an acquaintance recognized him and passed along to supervisors that Devoureau was female at birth and was transgender.

A day later, the lawsuit alleges, Devoureau was confronted by the program's director, identified as Van Macaluso. She told Devoureau that he was fired because she had been told "he was not a man, that he did not have the parts of a man, and that the job called for a biological male," according to legal documents.

Devoureau and his lawyer said they knew of no complaints about Devoureau's job performance.

A person who answered the phone at Urban Treatment Associates said that Macaluso would not be in the office until next week and that no one else could comment. The attorney representing the center did not immediately return a call for comment.

Devoureau said Monday that he filed the lawsuit to prevent transgender discrimination in the future.

"What matters is not who I am, but how I do the job," he said. "And I did that job perfectly."

"New Jersey is a national leader in transgender equality, and New Jersey is a worldwide model in protecting transgender people from discrimination," Steven Goldstein, chairman of the civil rights organization Garden State Equality, said Monday.

"We've never seen or heard of such a brazen disregard for the law," he said."

(c) 2011, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

 

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