Transgender Cop Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against Port Authority Police

Fellow Port Authority cops allegedly fostered a toxic work environment for a transgender police officer after he came out as transgender in 2018.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A transgender male police officer has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Port Authority after facing a spate of anti-trans incidents at work, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

Michael McConaughey of New York City alleges that colleagues made transphobic remarks about his gender, deadnamed him, denied him bathroom access, called him an “it,” and retaliated against him after he came out as transgender. McConaughey is also accusing the Port Authority of dragging its feet to respond to the harassment. The 11-page complaint lists several alleged offenses and is being handled by lawyers at Derek Smith Law Group.

In a written statement, McConaughey’s lawyer, Daniel Kirschbaum, ripped the agency’s delayed response.

“My firm and I fight on behalf of all sorts of victims, whether the basis for their mistreatment is race or ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or — like here — gender,” Kirschbaum said. “Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have learned yet that teasing or shaming transgender employees, or denying them the bathroom of their choice, counts as unlawful harassment — and that it’s also unlawful to take retaliatory measures against employees who complain about such harassment.”

Kirschbaum added, “And that’s exactly what the Complaint alleges happened to Mr. McConaughey. Such conduct is particularly inappropriate because the Port Authority Police Department is supposed to enforce the law and protect the victims of illegal conduct, not to violate such laws and foster such conduct.”

The flurry of transphobic incidents allegedly stemmed from July of 2018 when, according to the suit, Port Authority cops asked McConaughey to remove a transgender person from the women’s bathroom. Although McConaughey pushed back and said the individual was allowed to use the bathroom, colleagues allegedly removed the person anyway. McConaughey brought this issue to his superiors and then came out to them as transgender.

Shortly after, McConaughey alleges he was the victim of the same abuse. According to the lawsuit, McConaughey claims the agency repeatedly stalled his requests to switch to a male locker room.

“Plaintiff submitted a written request (known informally as a “Handwritten Memorandum”) to switch his locker to a male locker room,” the complaint states. “Thirty days later, with no response, Plaintiff submitted a second Handwritten Memorandum, on which he reiterated his request to switch locker rooms — and further suggested that the Port Authority’s failure to assign him the locker room of his choice constituted unlawful discrimination.”

According to the suit, an HR representative asked if he could “hold off on switching locker rooms while the Port Authority’s insurers and legal department approved a new policy.” The complaint alleges that it took nearly half a year, or until January of 2019, for the Port Authority to develop a policy allowing transgender workers to use a bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. The policy also calls for the agency to list the employee’s correct name and pronouns on written and other work-related documents.

However, it was not until the following summer that Port Authority updated McConaughey’s name and gender on “papers and electronic document, uniform and equipment rosters, and court notifications.”

The anti-trans abuse came to a head last October when McConaughey said a coworker allegedly stared at his genitals as he was using the urinal. After the incident, the coworker began calling the man “it,” and “whatever it is,” and a “transvestite.” The bullying went even further when the colleague allegedly started gossiping about the incident to others. According to the lawsuit, the co-worker told colleagues that McConaughey had a “sex change” and a “rubber dick.”

The alleged abuse took a toll on McConaughey, who described the series of incidents as “humiliating” and said another colleague noticed that he began to lose weight, appeared “very stressed,” and “was clearly having a difficult time at work.” Despite witnessing these changes, higher-ups allegedly did not take “any action to discipline or punish any of Plaintiff’s co-workers or superiors for harassing him or retaliating against him.”

McConaughey is seeking monetary damages as a result of the case.

Years ago, police officers at Port Authority faced similar anti-LGBTQ accusations for a discriminatory policy that allegedly targeted gay and gender non-conforming men in the terminal’s bathrooms. The lawsuit, which was launched in 2017, alleges that in 2014 officers arrested queer men using these facilities. Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that the lawsuit could go to trial.

In a separate incident in 2020, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association became embroiled in controversy after perpetuating stigmatizing and false rhetoric regarding HIV-positive individuals after a person was busted for spitting on a cop’s face at LaGuardia Airport. CBS took heat for a tweet saying a suspect was “released after HIV attack” and the news outlet subsequently suggested that HIV could be spread through saliva. In turn, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association ripped the suspect’s release and tried to frame it as being a consequence of bail reform laws before also perpetuating false narratives about HIV.

When reached by Gay City News at the time, the police union’s spokesperson, Bob Egbert, said, “We understand the risk and we deal with individuals with infectious disease. The problem is when a person with an infectious disease has a weapon, we have a problem with that… a guy who knowingly has an infectious disease — that’s a problem.”

Both CBS and the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association were blasted by advocates and organizations serving people living with HIV.

This latest lawsuit comes more than a year after a Bostock Supreme Court ruling affirmed employee nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ workers. Advocates are also pushing for the passage of the Equality Act, which would build on the Bostock decision and provide comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people in the US.

In the wake of the most recent allegations, a Port Authority spokesperson said the Port Authority “strictly forbids discrimination or harassment in any form,”  agency declined to respond to direct questions about the lawsuit, citing “pending litigation.”

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