Monday, July 28, 2014

Transgender woman gets $4,000 in settlement she claims smacks of unfairness




No one takes any blame in the mediated settlement the U.S. Department of Justice arranged recently between an Athens, TX, RV park owner and a transgender woman and her female partner who alleged discrimination.

In the settlement order dated July 9, George Toone, owner of Texan RV Park, continued to deny the discrimination allegations, but he agreed to pay Roxann Joganik and Darlina Anthony $4,000 to settle the case. Both the defendants and the complainants agreed in the settlement they would make no negative or critical comments of the other, and they agreed not to reveal any communications between them after reaching the agreement.

Joganik said that while she could not make any statements about the RV park owner, she criticized the Department of Justice for its handling of the case. Most discrimination cases get larger settlements, she claimed.

“I didn’t get a fair deal because I’m transgender,” Joganik said. “They don’t give a hoot.”

Joganik said she believes the average settlement in a discrimination case taken on by the Department of Justice would be at least three times what she received.

Joganik said she believed the federal employees who assisted her failed to “understand what it means to be transgender,” which led them to seek a quick, easy settlement.

The federal employees appeared to be as prejudiced against her as anyone else, Joganik said.

"I hate the Department of Justice," Joganik said. "I hope I never have to deal with them again."

The Department of Justice's website includes a section devoted to LGBTI individuals. It includes a quote from Asst. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "On an issue of basic equality and fundamental fairness for all Americans ... we have come too far in our struggle for equal justice under the law to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, fear of the unknown and prejudice."

The media attention the case attracted led to Joganik's current landlord telling her not to allow a reporter to return to the RV park, she said. "It's hard for me to find a place to live," she said.

Joganik is now living in her third RV park since she began her transition from male to female.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a charge of discrimination in August against the Athens RV park owner after investigating a complaint by the transgender woman and her female partner who now live in Seven Points.

The action was believed to be one of the first few investigations by HUD to proceed to the trial stage since the federal agency adopted a new policy in March 2012 banning discrimination against LGBT people.

If the charge of discrimination had been upheld in a federal administrative hearing or a U.S. federal district court the park owner could have been fined $16,000 and been required to reimburse the complainants for damages. The damages could have included moving expenses and compensation for emotional distress.

Joganik and Anthony filed the complaint in the summer of 2012 against George and Amy Toone and In Toone Services, LLC, owners of Texan RV Park on Highway 175 West in Athens. The complainants alleged that the Toones discriminated against them on the basis of sex on May 15, 2012, and again on Aug. 18, 2012.

After the park owner refused to accept a rent payment from them and successfully pursued an eviction in now-deceased Justice of the Peace Henry S. Ashford's court in Henderson County, Joganik offered to move to her son's residence so Anthony could remain, according to the couple. The park owner again refused to accept the rent payment, leading to the dual charge, they said.

The pair amended the complaints in February 2013 to add charges of harassment and intimidation after the Toones, who were represented by Dallas lawyer Casey Erick, allegedly "sought and assisted in the publication of articles on a campground management website," according to the complaint outlined in HUD documents.

The articles allegedly contained "inaccurate and negative information about complainant Joganik for the purpose of harassing and intimidating her" in violation of federal law, according to the allegations in the documents.

The Toones denied the allegations of discrimination, claiming that the complainants' recreational vehicle did not "constitute a dwelling" and should be exempt from the federal housing law. They claimed the owners of the recreational vehicles in the park were not tenants, but instead guests.

The respondents also maintained that Joganik and Anthony were asked to leave the park because Joganik would not sign the park rules, the pair disrupted other guests' use of the park and that Joganik had killed park wildlife. Joganik identified the wildlife as turtles in a pond that were eating the bait off her fish hooks.

Federal officials found "reasonable cause" of "discriminatory housing practices" by the park owner in the case, according to HUD documents in the possession of the complainants. But the officials rejected the complaint against the owner's wife and the allegations of intimidation and harassment.



Joganik and Anthony previously said they were confident they would prevail in the HUD proceedings.

A spokeswoman for Texan RV Park said the owner would have no comment about the case at the time it was filed. Erick, the attorney representing the owner, did not return phone messages left at his office.
  
To contact the LGBTI Working Group or to report acts of violence or discrimination send an email to CRT-LGBTI@usdoj.gov or visit justice.gov/crt/complain