Former employee petitions DART to offer domestic partner benefits

Andrew Moss

A former Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee is petitioning the company to add domestic partner benefits after health issues have forced him to stop working.

Andrew Moss worked as a DART police officer for five years until 2008. He then worked for the city of Fort Worth until his health prevented him from working. He’s now on COBRA but that will expire in December, he said.

Moss legally married his husband in California in 2008, but Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage. He said his husband still works as a police officer for DART and could add Moss to his health insurance plan as early as January if DART offered DP benefits.

“My husband goes to work and risks his life for DART and should get the same benefits that his counterparts of a different sexual orientation get,” Moss said.

Moss has started a Change.org petition called “Urge Dallas Area Rapid Transit DART to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits” to persuade DART President Gary Thomas and Deputy Executive Director Jesse Oliver to add the benefits.

As of Thursday afternoon, 36 people had signed it.

“In my discussion with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, I was advised by their Human Resources Managers that DART ‘Prefers not to get into the choices of their employees,’” Moss mentions in the petition letter. “I wasn’t aware my husband and I and countless others woke up one day and decided to be LGBT. DART appears to be less than willing to even attempt to assist their LGBT population in obtaining benefits or other effective workplace protections.”

—  Dallasvoice

'Blue sheet' uncovered: A copy of the DART resolution on transgender protections

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons just sent along a copy of the two-page resolution that was apparently approved by the DART board last night. Lyons also promises to call soon, but based on his e-mail, it looks like the board did in fact approve the proposed nondiscrimination policy minus the word “except.” In other words, board member Claude Williams’ interpretation was correct. I guess this is the “blue sheet” to which Board Chairman William Velasco was alluding. But as you can see after the jump, this version ain’t blue.

—  John Wright

Did the DART board break the law when it talked trans protections behind closed doors?

If nothing else, I’m grateful for the little lesson on Texas open meetings law that I received this morning. I’ve worked as a journalist in three states over 10-plus years, so it all tends to blur together in my mind. But somehow, when the DART board closed its meeting last night, it just didn’t seem right.

To recap, the board met in a closed session for 30 minutes to discuss with their attorneys a proposal to add transgender protections to the agency’s nondiscrimination policy. After the meeting was reopened and we were allowed back in, board members promptly voted 11-2 to approve the proposal after no public debate. A final vote on the trans protections will come next week.

—  John Wright

DART will vote on trans protections again today, but only for the second-to-last time

DartI heard rumors this morning that the Board of Directors of Dallas Area Rapid Transit might take a final vote tonight on a proposal to add gender identity to the agency’s nondiscrimination policy.

Those rumors are false, according to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons, who says nothing has changed about the agency’s timeline for adding gender identity to the policy.

Lyons said the board’s “committee of the whole” will consider the policy change at its meeting at 4:30 p.m. today. The committee of the whole, which Lyons compared to a city council work session, will vote on whether to forward the proposal to the regular board.

“That’s the way they have to go with policy items,” Lyons said. “It requires two separate meetings. There’s no slight of hand. It’s not on the [board] agenda. It will be taken up in committee of the whole and assuming an affirmative vote, referred to the full board.”

If the policy change is referred to the board, members will take a final vote during their regular meeting June 15.

Lyons said there will be no opportunity for public input on the policy change during the committee of the whole session tonight. However, there will be a general public comment period during the subsequent board meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

While tonight’s vote isn’t final, I’d say it’ll be a pretty good indicator of the outcome, given that the committee of the whole and the Board of Directors are made up of the same people.

—  John Wright

Transgender DART employee placed on leave for comments alleging discrimination

Dallas Area Rapid Transit reportedly placed a transgender bus driver on paid administrative leave Sunday, April 18 in response to written comments she made suggesting that the agency discriminates against employees.

The comments accusing DART of discrimination were made on cards that allow drivers to report maintenance problems with their buses at the end of their shifts, sources said. DART maintained that the driver was defacing agency property by using the cards for another purpose.

DART notified the driver that she was being placed on administrative leave when she arrived for her shift on Sunday, according to reports. The driver met with her supervisor today and agreed to stop using the cards to make comments about alleged discrimination. She will return to work on Tuesday.

Pamela Curry, a trans activist who is a friend of the driver’s, called the comments on the cards “an act of desperation,” because the employee feels she has no other way to speak out about the alleged discrimination.

Last year, the transgender employee asked DART to change her gender from male to female in personnel records. But DART objected and prepared to challenge a family court judge’s order granting the employee a gender-marker change. The judge overturned the order before DART filed its motion challenging it.

The employee also alleges that her supervisors have at various times told her not to wear dresses or long hair at work, and not to use women’s restrooms at the bus yard. The employee, who’s worked for the agency for 25 years, began transitioning in 2003 and had sexual reassignment surgery in 2006.

Outcry about the case from the LGBT community has prompted DART to consider adding trans protections to its employment nondiscrimination policy. A final vote on the proposed policy change is expected in June.

“Even as they work through the process of adding protections, they’re being very cold about it,” Curry said.

Curry has acted as a spokesperson for the employee, who says she’s prohibited from talking to the media.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said Monday afternoon he didn’t have any information about the incident but would look into it.

UPDATE: Lyons got back to me this morning but said he can’t comment because it’s a personnel matter and therefore exempt from public records requirements. I informed Lyons that records related to disciplinary action typically aren’t included in this exemption. “We’re talking about a specific employee, and I’m just not going to comment on that,” Lyons responded. Guess we’ll be filing a formal request.

—  John Wright

DART committee to be briefed Tuesday on proposal to add transgender protections

A proposal to add transgender protections to DART’s nondiscrimination policy will be presented to the transit agency’s Economic Opportunity & Diversity Committee on Tuesday.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said tomorrow’s agenda item is merely a staff briefing, and committee members won’t vote on the proposed policy change until a recommendation is presented in May. If the committee approves the recommendation at that time, it would proceed to the agency’s Board of Directors, which likely would take a final vote in June.

“We’ve still got a few meetings to go through, but that’s the standard practice for any policy change,” Lyons said. “We’re following through on what we said we would do with this issue in the conversations with the Resource Center.”

Lyons added that while tomorrow’s meeting is open to the public, the committee won’t take input from the audience.

The proposal to add trans protections comes in the wake of an outcry from the LGBT community over DART’s attempt to intervene in a familiy court case to oppose a bus driver’s gender-marker change.

Tomorrow’s meeting is at 1:30 p.m. in DART Conference Room C, on the first floor of the agency’s headquarters at 1401 Pacific Ave. in Dallas.

—  John Wright

DART indicates that it would still oppose an employee's gender-marker change

As I noted yesterday, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is moving forward with a proposal to add transgender protections to its nondiscrimination policy. But does this mean the agency will no longer attempt to intervene if an employee seeks a gender-marker change? When I posed this very question to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons yesterday, he responded by acknowledging that the agency has learned lessons from the current controversy involving a transgender bus driver, including things related to uniforms and restroom use. But Lyons added that when it comes to the issue of gender-marker changes, DART is standing its ground.

“We’ve got a current legal opinion that provides direction in this case, and we haven’t seen anything to change that,” he said. “I wouldn’t anticipate anything different than what was done previously absent new direction.”

In other words, DART attorneys still believe that the 1999 case of Littleton v. Prange established a precedent that prohibits gender-marker changes, even though LGBT legal experts and many Dallas county judges disagree. Not only that, DART apparently still believes it’s the agency’s proper role to get involved in employees’ private legal affairs when the agency believes judges have erred. This sure seems like a slippery slope. For example, if an employee is going through a divorce, and DART doesn’t agree with a judge’s decision about child support or visitation, would the agency try to challenge it?

I also asked Lyons yesterday whether DART plans to consider adding domestic partner benefits. Lyons has said previously that he’s not aware of any current proposal to do so, and he didn’t have additional information when we spoke yesterday. Cece Cox and Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas, who met with DART officials Tuesday, said they also asked about DP benefits. Cox and McDonnell told me it’s DART’s position that domestic partner benefits are prohibited by Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which also states that, “This state or any political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” Again, not everyone shares DART’s legal opinion about this, and the cities of Dallas, Austin and El Paso all provide domestic partner benefits to their employees. Now that I think about it, I’m surprised DART’s attorneys haven’t intervened and tried to challenge these cities’ DP benefits, because apparently they don’t have anything better to do.

In case you’re wondering, DART’s next board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and LGBT activists are again planning to attend.

—  John Wright