November 1, 2007
NY Dept. of Correctional Servs. Officer Wins $850,000 for Sexual Harassment
The NY Dept. of Corrections Officer was subjected to sexually offensive language, drawings, etc. by her supervisor at a maximum security prison. Humig v. New York State Dep't of Corr. Servs., N.Y. Div. of Human Rights, No. 7905228 (Oct. 11, 2007). The taunts stemmed from her status as a lesbian and a woman. Due to her sex and her sexual orientation, she was suffered from a hostile work environment and, when she reported the incident, retaliation.
The administrative law judge noted that the harassment was pervasive and that the facts of this case "shocks the conscience" because "Complainant's life was placed in grave danger solely because of her sexual orientation and her gender." Id. Her supervisor went so far as to write derogatory comments about the officer on the shared employee work calendar. Due to the hostile work environment and retaliation suffered when she reported the incident, the officer was awarded $850,000 in compensatory damages.
The facts of this case truly shock the conscience, as the DOJ Officer was subjected to threats and taunts by her supervisor. Not only was she injured by the comments and pervasive remarks, she was also at risk from the male inmates (who might have interpreted the disrespectful behavior as an appropriate way to treat the officer).
October 30, 2007
Sexual Orientation Law Teaching Fellowship
The UCLA-based Williams Project offers a two year teaching fellowship for recent law grads interested in becoming scholars/law professors in the area of Sexual Orientation and the Law. Interested applicants should submit an application by December 1, 2007.
The Law Fellow will teach at least two courses, receive mentorship for scholarly pursuits, assist with Williams Project events, etc.
This is a great opportunity for a recent graduate to gain valuable teaching/scholarship experience at a wonderful law school.
Additional information can be found on the Williams Project website.
October 29, 2007
Primary Residential Placement & Discrimination
Although it is illegal for a judge to discriminate when making a visitation or placement decision in child custody disputes, it occurs nonetheless.
A recent decision is a case in point: On Oct. 23, 2007, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of a trial judge to place a child with its mother due to the father's transgendered status. In re Magnuson, 2007 WL 3072435 (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2007). The trial court, in its finding of facts, concluded that "[t]he impact of gender reassignment surgery on the children is unknown." Id. at *1. Despite a case from the Washington Supreme Court admonishing that visitation rights must be determined on the basis of the best interest of the child, not the sexual preferences--or sexual orientation--of the parents, the court upheld the lower court's decision. Id. at *3 (citing In re Marriage of Cabalquinto, 669 P.2d 886 (Wash. 1983) (remanding the case because the court was unable to determine how the lower court made its decision)).
Granted, child placement decisions are very hard to overturn--considered on the basis of an abuse of discretion. Id. at *2. However, the strong dissenting opinion in the case presents an alternate view. The dissenting opinion agrees with the court's extension of the Cabalquinto decision to cover transgendered parents. But, the opinion points out that a judge has abused his discretion when he "applies the wrong legal standard or bases its ruling on an erroneous view of the law." Id. at *3 (Kulik, J. dissenting). The dissenting judge points out that the court found that the impact of the gender reassignment surgery on the children is "unknown" despite expert testimony that "transgender status does not ultimately have an impact on the parent's ability to parent[,]" the guardian ad litem report, and the advice of the court-appointed psychologist. Id. at *3-4. The guardian ad litem also found that Robbie, the transsexual parent, was more involved with the children on a day-to-day basis. Id. at *4. "Apparently, the only difference between the parents was that Robbie, the primary parent, planned to have gender reassignment surgery." Id.
The lower court could have split time between the two parents equally or taken the advice of the guardian ad litem and placed the children with Robbie, the primary caretaker. Instead, the court chose to focus on Robbie's transgender status and future gender reassignment surgery and placed the children with the other parent.