Ohio judge fines club in Columbus’ first-ever transgender discrimination case

Savanna DeLongImage via WBNS-TV

Savanna DeLong
Image via WBNS-TV

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A municipal court judge in Columbus, Ohio, has ordered owners of a private dining and business networking club to pay a $1,000 fine in the city’s first-ever transgender discrimination case.

Franklin County Municipal Court Judge H. William Pollitt Jr., on Monday levied the fine against Columbus Hospitality Management, owners of the Capital Club, for retaliating against Savanna DeLong and denying her work at the downtown club.

Savanna DeLong
Image via WBNS-TV

It’s the first-ever case brought by city prosecutors against a Columbus business for discriminating against someone who’s transgender, since gender identity was added in 2008 to local anti-discrimination laws.

DeLong, who worked at the Capital Club for 12 years as a licensed massage therapist, bartender and restaurant server, said she never received bad feedback from superiors.

But, she said, that changed after she emailed her supervisor in December 2010 to tell her she had just legally changed her name from Joseph Scott DeLong to Savanna DeLong, and that she had begun the physical transition from male to female. DeLong said she began taking hormones in 2006 but had not told anyone for four years that she was transgender.

“In January [2011], I got a call. They wanted to meet with me,” said DeLong. “They said some things, rather insultingly.”

The things DeLong describes — referring to her gender identity as an “epiphany,” questioning her presence in locker rooms, telling her she’d make club members uncomfortable — were a shock, she said.

“I was a dedicated employee. I went above and beyond whatever they asked me to do.”

Capital Club managers promised to give her more hours working in the bar, she said, but they never called again.

The company denied wrongdoing, but pleaded no contest in court. President Charles Lagarce said fighting the charges would have been too costly, and he described the plea and acceptance of the fine as “the best business decision for us.”

Lagarce said DeLong was a contract employee, not a full-timer, and that she lost work because Columbus Hospitality Management was shifting hours away from all contract employees.

Lagarce did acknowledge that questions were raised about which locker room she would walk through to get to the massage room, but said that was only because her gender hadn’t legally been changed. He denied that anyone ever told DeLong that club members would feel uncomfortable around her.

Chief Prosecutor Lara Baker-Morrish said DeLong’s status as a contractor prevented the city from fully pursuing a discrimination case against the company. Columbus Hospitality Management was fined for retaliating against DeLong by denying her work after she filed a federal equal-opportunity complaint.

That complaint was dismissed because federal anti-discrimination laws don’t cover LGBT Americans.

Without the 2008 addition of gender identity to Columbus’ anti-discrimination laws, though, DeLong would have had no standing to pursue her case, Baker-Morrish said.

The $1,000 fine against Capital Club will be paid to the city, not to DeLong. But, she said, she has gained something from her involvement in Columbus’ first transgender discrimination case.

“It gave me a lot more self-confidence. It made me realize Columbus is a pretty good place,” she said. “I feel like I contributed something to the community.”

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