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Schroer v. Billington

September 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


Diane Schroer claims that she was denied employment by the Librarian of Congress because of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Evidence was taken in a bench trial on August 19-22, 2008.


Diane Schroer is a male-to-female transsexual. Although born male, Schroer has a female gender identity --- an internal, psychological sense of herself as a woman. Tr. at 37. In August 2004, before she changed her legal name or began presenting as a woman, Schroer applied for the position of Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime with the Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress. The terrorism specialist provides expert policy analysis to congressional committees, members of Congress and their staffs. Pl. Ex. 1. The position requires a security clearance.

Schroer was well qualified for the job. She is a graduate of both the National War College and the Army Command and General Staff College, and she holds masters degrees in history and international relations. During Schroer's twenty-five years of service in the U.S. Armed Forces, she held important command and staff positions in the Armored Calvary, Airborne, Special Forces and Special Operations Units, and in combat operations in Haiti and Rwanda. Tr. at 22-31. Pl. Ex. 9. Before her retirement from the military in January 2004, Schroer was a Colonel assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command, serving as the director of a 120-person classified organization that tracked and targeted high-threat international terrorist organizations. In this position, Colonel Schroer analyzed sensitive intelligence reports, planned a range of classified and conventional operations, and regularly briefed senior military and government officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tr. 32-33. At the time of her military retirement, Schroer held a Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, and had done so on a continuous basis since 1987. Tr. at 33. After her retirement, Schroer joined a private consulting firm, Benchmark International, where, when she applied for the CRS position, she was working as a program manager on an infrastructure security project for the National Guard. Tr. At 36.

When Schroer applied for the terrorism specialist position, she had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and was working with a licensed clinical social worker, Martha Harris, to develop a medically appropriate plan for transitioning from male to female. Tr. at 36-38. The transitioning process was guided by a set of treatment protocols formulated by the leading organization for the study and treatment of gender identity disorders, the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. Pl. Ex. 45; Tr. at 193. Because she had not yet begun presenting herself as a woman on a full-time basis, however, she applied for the position as "David J. Schroer," her legal name at the time. In October 2004, two months after submitting her application, Schroer was invited to interview with three members of the CRS staff --- Charlotte Preece, Steve Bowman, and Francis Miko. Preece, the Assistant Director for Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade, was the selecting official for the position. Tr. at 103. Schroer attended the interview dressed in traditionally masculine attire --- a sport coat and slacks with a shirt and tie. Tr. at 45.

Schroer received the highest interview score of all eighteen candidates. Pl. Ex. 18. In early December, Preece called Schroer, told her that she was on the shortlist of applicants still in the running, and asked for several writing samples and an updated list of references. Tr. at 49. After receiving these updated materials, the members of the selection committee unanimously recommended that Schroer be offered the job. Tr. at 105. In mid-December, Preece called Schroer, offered her the job, and asked, before she processed the administrative paper work, whether Schroer would accept it. Tr. at 108. Schroer replied that she was very interested but needed to know whether she would be paid a salary comparable to the one she was currently receiving in the private sector. The next day, after Preece confirmed that the Library would be able to offer comparable pay, Schroer accepted the offer, and Preece began to fill out the paperwork necessary to finalize the hire. Id.

Before Preece had completed and submitted these documents, Schroer asked her to lunch on December 20, 2004. Schroer's intention was to tell Preece about her transsexuality. She was about to begin the phase of her gender transition during which she would be dressing in traditionally feminine clothing and presenting as a woman on a full-time basis. She believed that starting work at CRS as a woman would be less disruptive than if she started as a man and later began presenting as a woman. Tr. at 53.

When Schroer went to the Library for this lunch date, she was dressed in traditionally masculine attire. Before leaving to walk to a nearby restaurant, Preece introduced her to other staff members as the new hire who would soon be coming aboard. Preece also gave Schroer a short tour of the office, explaining where her new colleagues' offices were and describing Schroer's job responsibilities. Tr. at 56. As they were sitting down to lunch, Preece stated that they were excited to have Schroer join CRS because she was "significantly better than the other candidates." Id. Schroer asked why that was so, and Preece explained that her skills, her operational experience, her ability creatively to answer questions, and her contacts in the military and in defense industries made her application superior. Tr. at 56; 110.

About a half hour into their lunch, Schroer told Preece that she needed to discuss a "personal matter." Tr. at 57. She began by asking Preece if she knew what "transgender" meant. Preece responded that she did, and Schroer went on to explain that she was transgender, that she would be transitioning from male to female, and that she would be starting work as "Diane." Preece's first reaction was to ask, "Why in the world would you want to do that?" Tr. at 57, 110. Schroer explained that she did not see being transgender as a choice and that it was something she had lived with her entire life. Preece then asked her a series of questions, starting with whether she needed to change Schroer's name on the hiring documentation. Schroer responded that she did not because her legal name, at that point, was still David. Schroer went on to explain the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care and her own medical process for transitioning. She told Preece that she planned to have facial feminization surgery in early January and assured her that recovery from this surgery was quick and would pose no problem for a mid-January start date. In the context of explaining the Benjamin Standards of Care, Schroer explained that she would be living full-time as a woman for at least a year before having sex reassignment surgery. Such surgery, Schroer explained, could normally be accomplished during a two-week vacation period and would not interfere with the requirements of the job. Tr. at 59.

Preece then raised the issue of Schroer's security clearance, asking what name ought to appear on hiring documents. Schroer responded that she had several transgender friends who had retained their clearances while transitioning and said that she did not think it would be an issue in her case. Schroer also mentioned that her therapist would be available to answer any questions or provide additional background as needed. Tr. at 60. Because Schroer expected that there might be some concern about her appearance when presenting as a woman, she showed Preece three photographs of herself, wearing traditionally feminine professional attire. Although Preece did not say it to Schroer, her reaction on seeing these photos was that Schroer looked like "a man dressed in women's clothing." Tr. at 112. Preece did not ask Schroer whether she had told her references or anyone at Benchmark of her transition.

Although Schroer initially thought that her conversation with Preece had gone well, she thought it "ominous" that Preece ended it by stating "Well, you've given me a lot to think about. I'll be in touch." Tr. at 63.

Preece did not finish Schroer's hiring memorandum when she returned to the Library after lunch. See Pl. Ex. 23.*fn1 Instead, she went to speak with Cynthia Wilkins, the personnel security officer for the Library of Congress. Preece told Wilkins that she had just learned that the candidate she had planned to recommend for the terrorism specialist position would be transitioning from male to female and asked what impact that might have on the candidate's ability to get a security clearance. Tr. at 120. Wilkins did not know and said that she would have to look into the applicable regulations. Preece told Wilkins that the candidate was a 25-year military veteran. She did not recall whether or not she mentioned that Schroer currently held a security clearance. Preece did not provide, and Wilkins did not ask for, the sort of information --- such as Schroer's full name and social security number --- that would have allowed Wilkins access to information on Schroer's clearance history. Had Preece requested her to do so, Wilkins had the ability to access Schroer's complete investigative file through a centralized federal database. Tr. at 272, 279-82.

Preece testified that at this point, without waiting to hear more from Wilkins, she was leaning against hiring Schroer. Tr. at 121-22. She said that Schroer's transition raised five concerns for her. First, she was concerned about Schroer's ability to maintain her contacts within the military. Specifically, Preece thought that some of Schroer's contacts would no longer want to associate with her because she is transgender. Tr. at 113. At no point after learning of Schroer's transition, however, did Preece discuss the continuing viability of her contacts with Schroer, nor did she raise this concern with any of Schroer's references, all of whom in fact knew that she was transitioning. Tr. at 51, 114. Second, Preece was concerned with Schroer's credibility when testifying before Congress. When CRS specialists testify before Congress, they typically provide Members with brief biographical statements to give them credibility. Preece was concerned "that everyone would know that [Schroer] had transitioned from male to female because only a man could have her military experiences." Tr. at 114. Preece thought that this would be an obstacle to Schroer's effectiveness. Tr. at 115. Third, Preece testified that she was concerned with Schroer's trustworthiness because she had not been up front about her transition from the beginning of the interview process. Tr. at 117. Preece did not, however, raise this concern to Schroer during their lunch. Fourth, Preece thought that Schroer's transition might distract her from her job. Although Preece seems to have connected this concern to Schroer's surgeries, she did not ask for additional information about them or otherwise discuss the issue further with Schroer. Tr. at 118. Finally, Preece was concerned with Schroer's ability to maintain her security clearance. In Preece's mind, "David Schroer" had a security clearance, but "Diane Schroer" did not. Even before speaking with Wilkins, Preece "strongly suspected" that David's clearance simply would not apply to Diane. Tr. at 117. She had this concern, but she did not ask Schroer for any information on the people she knew who had undergone gender transitions while retaining their clearances. Id.

After her lunch with Schroer, Preece also relayed the details of her conversation to a number of other officials at CRS, including Daniel Mulholland, the Director of CRS, and Gary Pagliano, one of the defense section heads, whose reaction was to ask Preece if she had a good second candidate for the job. Later the same afternoon, Preece received an email from one of the Library's lawyers, setting up a meeting for the next morning to discuss the terrorism specialist position. Tr. at 123. That evening, as Preece thought about the issue, she was puzzled by the idea that "someone [could] go[] through the experience of Special Forces [and] decide that he wants to become a woman."

Tr. at 124. Schroer's background in the Special Forces made it harder for Preece to think of Schroer as undergoing a gender transition. Id.

The next morning, on December 21, 2004, at nine o'clock, Preece met with Kent Ronhovde, the Director of the Library of Congress, Wilkins, and two other members of the CRS staff from workforce development. Tr. at 124. Preece described her lunch conversation with Schroer and stated that Schroer had been, but no longer was, her first choice for the position. Tr. at 126. As Preece recalls the meeting, Wilkins stated that she was unable to say one way or another whether Diane Schroer would be able to get a security clearance. Id. at 126. Preece testified that Wilkins proposed that Schroer would have to a have a "psychological fitness for duty examination," after which the Library would have to decide whether to initiate a full background investigation. Wilkins testified that she was not familiar with such an "examination" and likely would not have used such a phrase, Tr. at 290-91, but she confirmed that she told the meeting that she would not approve a waiver for Schroer so that she could start working before the clearance process was complete. Wilkins made this decision without having viewed Schroer's application, her resume, or her clearance status and history. Tr. at 127. Preece understood the substance of Wilkins' comments to be that David's security clearance was not relevant to Diane, and that Diane would need a separate clearance. She assumed that that process could take up to a year.

At no point during the meeting did Preece express a continuing interest in hiring Schroer. She did not suggest that Wilkins pull and review David Schroer's security file to confirm her own assumption that the security clearance process would be a lengthy one. No one in the meeting asked whether the organization currently holding Schroer's clearance knew of her transition. There was no discussion of whether anyone else at the Library had dealt with a similar situation. Tr. at 128-29.

By the end of the meeting, Preece had made up her mind that she no longer wanted to recommend Schroer for the terrorism specialist position. Tr. at 131. Preece testified that the security clearance was the critical, deciding factor because of "how long it would take." She also testified, however, that she would have leaned against hiring Schroer even if she had no concerns regarding the security clearance, because her second candidate, John Rollins, presented "fewer complications" --because, unlike Schroer, he was not transitioning from male to female. Tr. at 133-34.

Later that day, Preece circulated a draft of what she proposed to tell Schroer to those who had participated in the meeting. The email stated:

David. I'm calling to let you know that I am not going forward with my recommendation to hire you for the terrorism position. In light of what you told me yesterday, I feel that you are putting me and CRS in an awkward position for a number of reasons as you go through this transition period. I am primarily concerned that you could not likely be brought on in a timeframe that is needed for me to fill the position. Our Personnel Security Office has told me that the background investigation process that will be required for you to start work could be lengthy. I am also concerned that the past contacts I had counted on you to bring to the position may not now be as fruitful as they were in the past. Finally I have concerns that the transition that you are in the process of might divert your full attention away from the mission of CRS.

I could be wrong on any one of these complicated factors, but taken together I do not have a high enough degree of confidence to recommend you for the position. Having said that, I very much appreciate your candor and your courage. I wish you the best and want to let you know that you should feel free to[] apply for future positions at the Library.

Pl. Ex. 19. Preece was then called into the General Counsel's office for a meeting at eleven o'clock. Afterward, Preece circulated a revised email with the header "Draft per ...

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