Former clerk claims 42 months of harassment left him unable to perform his job effectively, led to his firing
A gay man filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this week alleging that nine women he worked with in a billing department at UT Southwestern Medical Center had made his life a living hell.
Sid Gonzales, 42, said the women bullied him, made disparaging remarks about gay and lesbian people and forced him to comply with a special set of rules. The former billing specialist, who worked in the department for almost three-and-one-half years before he was fired on Feb. 12, said he was not allowed to go to the restroom, to breaks or to lunch without permission from a coworker, who was not his supervisor.
“In her mind, she got off some how to this idea she was my supervisor and started bossing and bullying me around,” said Gonzales, whose termination letter stated he was being fired for a poor job performance.
Gonzales said the women continuously mocked him in exaggerated voices that were meant to sound like a gay man talking.
Gonzales said he repeatedly complained to his supervisor, whom he suspected of also being gay, his supervisor’s supervisor and the school’s office of equal opportunity and minority affairs. Although his complaints sometimes led to promises of relief, the abuse continued, he said.
At one point, one of the women made up a story claiming he had told her that he saw his supervisor in a gay bar, Gonzales said.
“That was not true,” Gonzales said. “I said that we belonged to the same gym.”
Gonzales said he was eventually told by the supervisor, whom he suspected of being afraid because he was closeted, that there was no way to control the women and that he would have to accept the situation.
“He did tell me on several occasions that things were never going to change in that department,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said his supervisor began following him to the restroom, to the copier and everywhere else he went to check up on him.
Gonzales said he was the only Hispanic in the department. The women were either white or black, and they ranged in age from the 30s to late 40s, he said.
Gonzales said he filed a grievance with the school’s office of equal opportunity and minority affairs on July 31, 2006, alleging that he was being discriminated against based on his sex, specifically that he was being targeted because of his sexual orientation. He received a letter from the office’s director, Rosie Canales, on Jan. 31, 2007, telling him that his complaint was being dismissed without action.
“I have followed up on the information you provided to me and based on that evidence I am unable to support your claim that you were discriminated against because of your sex or sexual orientation,” Canales wrote in the letter.
Canales referred questions to the school’s public relations department.
John Walls, assistant vice president for public affairs of the school, said, “UT Southwestern does not discriminate. We investigate all claims that are brought to us, but we cannot, however, discuss specific cases.”
Gonzales, who worked for the school for a total of 15 years before he was fired, said he became so depressed and anxious that his work suffered. Every attempt to transfer out of the department failed without him ever obtaining an interview in another department, he said.
“I was always a good employee up until I got to this department,” Gonzales said. “I always got along with everyone. I did everything I could to get along. The more this went on the more anxiety I had. I even started therapy. It was a very hostile environment.
“I tried to transfer to other departments. It was always some kind of roadblock. I don’t know if I was blackballed or put on some list. It seems as time went by the bullying and disparate treatment got a little bit worse.”
Gonzales said he feels like he wasted several months of his time by complaining to the school’s office of equal opportunity. The former billing clerk said he erroneously thought it was the same as the federal office and did not learn differently until he consulted with an attorney recently.
Gonzales said the attorney wanted a $3,000 retainer just to take the case, and that was money he did not have.
Gonzales said that he has proceeded with the federal EEOC complaint, even though he has already lost his job, because he wants to bring attention to the plight of other LGBT employees who might be facing discrimination.
“I’m sure there are hundreds out there who are facing bullying and harassment,” Gonzales said. “It happens more than people think. I think UT Southwestern needs to do more about diversity. GLBT issues need to be on the forefront.”
Gonzales said many people think the medical community is more tolerant than it really is.
“Most of the gay people are closeted,” Gonzales said.
“Doctors and administrators are very conservative. They’re not pro-gay let’s put it that way.”
Nurses and technicians tend to be more liberal, he said.
Gonzales said he is aware that there is no state or federal law protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The city of Dallas’ anti-discrimination ordinance does not apply because other government institutions are exempt from complying with the city’s ordinance.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 16, 2007.