(CN) - The owner of a Texas RV park discriminated against and evicted a transgender woman and her partner, Obama administration lawyers say in a potentially landmark lawsuit.
Two months ago, government lawyers joined an administrative action
before the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on behalf of Roxanne Joganik, a transgender woman formerly known as Scott Pepos and Roxann Fanteal, and her partner Darlina Anthony. The couple had accused George Toone and his company In Toone Services of discrimination.
On Thursday, the United States filed a 10-page federal complaint in the Eastern District of Texas, in what may be the first lawsuit of its kind.
According to the complaint, Joganik and Anthony had lived in the park for more than a year before Toone and his company took over Texan RV Park in May 2012. Joganik says that she asked Toone's permission to dress as a woman in the park's common areas.
"During the same conversation, defendant Toone denied Ms. Joganik's request and stated that he did not want Ms. Joganik to wear female clothing in the park because 'there are children around the pool' and it is 'not the type of atmosphere we want to promote on private property,' or words to that effect," the complaint states. "Defendant Toone stated that Ms. Joganik would have to keep wearing her female clothing only inside of her RV."
Though Joganik followed that instruction, Toone handed her a new set of rules later that month that did not apply anti-discrimination protections based on "sex" or "familial status," as mandated by the Fair Housing Act, according to the complaint.
Joganik says she refused to sign unless those protected classes were added.
Toone started trying to evict the couple from the park in early June.
A letter from his lawyer stated: "I have been informed that Mr. Pepos is a transgender who goes by the name Roxann Fanteal. Mr. Pepos refused to leave the Park despite being asked to do so," according to the complaint.
The letter demanded that Jagonik and Anthony leave the park "immediately," purportedly for nonpayment of rent. The couple said that they replied that they had three more days to pay pursuant to their month-to-month agreement, but they were refused the opportunity to do so.
Although the HUD administrative action looked promising, the decks were allegedly stacked against the couple at the Justice of the Peace Court of Henderson County.
"The judge presiding over the eviction action told Ms. Joganik not to talk about her fair housing case and to refrain from using the word 'transgender' in the court," the complaint states.
They were evicted on Aug. 18, 2012, according to the complaint.
An HUD administrative judge authorized them to take the case to federal court on Sept. 4, 2012.
More than a year later, the Justice Department followed through on filing the case, which seeks any injunction restoring the couple's housing, barring discrimination against them, and awarding them unspecified money damages.
Transgender Equality's director of policy Harper Jean Tobin said in an email that she was not aware of any other case in which the HUD has gone to court over anti-transgender discrimination.
"The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education recently settled an administrative complaint brought under Title IX by a transgender student in California - the case was investigated by the two departments but the settlement kept it from ever going to court," Tobin wrote.
Citing statistics from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, she called housing discrimination against transgender people "deplorably common." The survey
found that 19 percent of transgender people had been refused a home or an apartment because of their identity, and 11 percent had been evicted because of discrimination.
While the Fair Housing Act bars discrimination based on "sex" and "familial status," it does not explicitly mention gender identity or expression.
Tobin added that the filing of this case "underscores that transgender people who are experiencing discrimination today throughout the country have legal recourse, and housing providers should take note. It does not diminish the need for Congress to clarify the law and put all housing providers and employers clearly on notice."
Toone's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.