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Transitioning in the workplace should be a safe and inclusive process. This was unfortunately not the case for officer Michael McConaughy, who says he was incessantly harassed and retaliated against by his colleagues at the Port Authority on the basis of being transgender.

All New Yorkers have the right to feel safe and protected in their work environment, regardless of their gender identity or gender expression. It should be without question that the hard-working people of our city are able to come to work each day and go about their duties in peace. The unfortunate truth, however, is that many employees live in fear of being persecuted simply for being who they are. Cases of workplace harassment on the basis of gender identity and gender expression have been appearing with increasing frequency ever since the 2020 decision of Bostock v. Clayton County ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars employers from discriminating against workers because they are gay or transgender.

Most recently, police officer Michael McConaughy has courageously brought forth a lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on several allegations of workplace discrimination due to his gender identity. The suit, filed this past Sunday, July 18, in federal court in Manhattan, details McConaughy’s accounts of being harassed by both colleagues and supervisors for openly transitioning, as well as his being retaliated against by supervisors after attempting to file complaints with Human Resources.

McConaughy’s Account of Harassment in the Workplace

McConaughy, who has worked at the Port Authority since 2013, says his coworkers refused to refer to him by his name, Michael, and instead insisted on only referring to him by his dead name (the name he was assigned at birth, with which he no longer associates). Additionally, he says he was called “it,” “whatever it is,” and a “transvestite.” To make matters worse, McConaughy says he was denied the right to use the proper restroom and locker room for over six months. 

McConaughy purports that he made multiple attempts to file complaints with the Human Resources Department to no avail; according to him, the complaints had “no obvious impact.” Furthermore, not only were his complaints allegedly met with no solution, but he claims he was then retaliated against by his supervisor, who spoke ill of him to his union for lodging said complaints. 

The Port Authority’s Transgender Inclusion & Non-Discrimination Policy

Ironically, all of these egregious actions are in direct violation of the Port Authority’s own “Transgender Inclusion and Non-Discrimination Policy,” which states that their goal is “to ensure safety and a comfortable, and healthy development of transgender or gender non-conforming employees while maximizing the employee’s workplace integration and minimizing stigmatization of the employee.” Clearly, by McConaughy’s account, they have gravely failed to follow through on this statement. 

When scrolling through this inclusion policy on the Port Authority’s website, one reads the exact opposite of McConaughy’s traumatic experience, the Port Authority claiming that transgender employees have the “right to be addressed by the name and pronoun corresponding to the employee’s gender identity,” as well as the “right to safe and appropriate restroom facilities, including the right to use a restroom that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity, regardless of the employee’s sex assigned at birth.” Lastly, the policy states that employees who transition on the job “can expect the support of management and Human Resources staff.” McConaughy’s account of his complaints not only being ignored, but then being retaliated against after attempting to lodge these complaints, hardly constitutes “support.” In fact, his experience describes one of neglect, hatred, and hostility. 

Looking Ahead

McConaughy is requesting monetary damages that are to be determined at a jury trial. Meanwhile, the Port Authority has provided no comment on the pending litigation.

As McConaughy’s lawyer, Daniel Kirshbaum, puts it, “it is shameful that a governmental agency is engaging in unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.” Indeed, it is disgraceful to think that an institution of our government that claims to pride itself on inclusion would treat an employee with such blatant malice, with complaints of said malice being outright ignored. 

One would hope that we live in a city where such discriminatory conduct would never take place against innocent, hard-working people; and, if it did, that the matter would be ameliorated with care, legality, and professionalism. Every person, regardless of their gender or how they express it, has the right to work in peace; to come to work each day without fear of being discriminated against simply for existing as their authentic self.

 

(Sources: Bloomberg Equality, BNN Bloomberg, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey)

 

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