Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fired City Manager Has Groundswell Of Support, Possible Grounds For Legal Action

The Groundswell

According to a majority of those surveyed by the St. Petersburg Times, the City of Largo was wrong to fire their city manager of 14 years, Steve Stanton:

A majority of adults in Largo and Pinellas County say the Largo City Commission was wrong to move to fire City Manager Steve Stanton this week, a St. Petersburg Times survey has found.

Most of the 601 residents surveyed also said the City Commission acted too quickly to fire Stanton on Tuesday night.

"The fact that he was a transsexual and planning to have surgery had nothing to do with his brain," said retired teacher Clifford Aldrich, 69, of Largo, who watched the meeting on television. "I saw an awful lot of intolerance and prejudice among the people in the audience, and it rubbed off on the commission."

Moreover, four out of five residents said they would accept a boss or someone they supervised who had a sex-change operation.

On Friday, Stanton said the responses did not surprise him.

"It's absolutely consistent with what I believed before I put my career on the line," he said.

And of course, the commissioners who voted to dismiss Stanton, having since been tapped on the collective shoulder by Risk Management, are now backscrambling like alley rats surprised by oncoming headlights, scattering rubbish as they go:

The majority of commissioners who voted to begin the firing process said their choice had nothing to do with Stanton's choice to undergo sexual re-assignment surgery.

Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Mary Gray Black said they had been unhappy with his performance for a long time.

Crozier, who also had problems with how Stanton treated employees, said she saw a window of opportunity to remove him.

"Unless you've worked with the man behind the scenes for many years you don't know his management style," she said. "That's not the kind of city manager I would want."

Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said she didn't move to fire Stanton because he was transsexual. She did so because she lost confidence in him, she said.

"I'm extremely disappointed how he handled it and shared it with the mayor and did not share it with the other commissioners," Arntzen said.

The Grounds

Should appealing the city commission's ruling prove unsuccessful, Steve Stanton could certainly take matters to the courts. New York-based law professor and consultant Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss, at her insightful and beautifully-written blog Transgender Workplace Diversity, notes that federal, state, and local rulings all offer precedent, and perhaps even encouragement:

Above I’ve discussed federal rights, but there is law on the state level that could give grounds for a lawsuit. Although Florida has no statute explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings has ruled that an individual with “gender dysphoria,” a medical term for transsexuality, is within the disability coverage of the Florida Human Rights Act. Smith v. City of Jacksonville Correctional Inst., 1991 WL 833882 (Fla. Div. Admin. Hrgs. 1991). In that case, the tribunal found that a corrections officer who was dismissed upon revealing her transsexuality was protected from dismissal based upon the disability created by the perceptions of the employer. The tribunal also rejected the employer's claim that inmates would not respect a transsexual, thus making non-transsexuality a "bona fide occupational qualification." If the Smith case is applied to Mr. Stanton's case, then discrimination based on his gender identity is discrimination based on perceived disability within the conception of Florida state law, and the claim that city residents and employees will not respect her after transition cannot be used as a justification. In the St. Petersburg Times story on the legal issues, the paper quoted Tampa lawyer Theresa Gallion, a managing partner at Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm, who cautioned against putting too much stock in that case, noting that it is not binding on Florida courts.

"The bottom line is that there are very few protections unless you live in one of the states" that specifically list transgender people in their antidiscrimination laws, she said.

She's right, of course, that the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings decision is not binding on other Florida courts outside the administrative system, but the decision points in Ms. Stanton's direction, and against the City Commission. But then Ms. Gallion should be expected to side with management, as her firm, Fisher & Phillips, only represents management.

As a resident of Pinellas county, I'm pleased to learn that my neighbors are, by and large, thoughtful, fair, and tolerant sorts; that just as I'd thought, the strident, blaring bigots are a minority.

And it's good to know the law may well be on Steve Stanton's side, too.

Also at Shakes' place.

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