Friday, March 9, 2007

FL city fires manager over sex reassignment

In a move that has sparked local controversy and national attention, the Largo, FL City Commission voted last month to dismiss their City Manager of fourteen years because she is undergoing a gender transition. No one contested that Susan Stanton -- formerly Steven Stanton -- had done a great job all along, but five out of seven commissioners decided she'd "lost credibility" because of her transition.

Ms. Stanton is appealing her dismissal through commission procedures for now, but she has retained legal representation through the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has said it will consider going to court over the matter.

Largo has an internal nondiscrimination policy here that appears to have been violated by this filing, though it's not clear to me what the remedy is for such a violation. Florida and federal law do not clearly prohibit anti-trans discrimination in employment. The Equal Protection Clause probably does so in public employment, see Doe v. United States Postal Service, 1985 WL 9446 (D.D.C. 1985). Though under rational basis review an argument about "credibility" or the like might be made, this looks like animus under another name.

Is the firing, by vote of the city commission, of a city manager a nonjusticiable political question? Nice try, but I think not. I haven't really studied this area, but Powell v. McCormack seems to me to dictate that even dismissal of a top political official is justiciable when constitutional rights are involved.

More interesting to me than the legal questions here is how this plays out in public discourse, particularly within the city and state. Firings of trans teachers and professors in recent years have generated considerable discussion of anti-trans discrimination, but this high-profile case involving a long-serving public official seems an even more poignant vehicle for that discussion.

For more on the relevant law and the media coverage of this case, I refer you to Janet Weiss's Transgender Workplace Diversity blog.

1 comment:

Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss said...

Your point about nonjusticiability is interesting. I've seen cases, though, in which such officials have prevailed on due process grounds. You can see my legal analysis on my blog,