“I felt like the Dallas Arboretum was forcing me to go back into the closet and that I was being required to ask my staff, whom I supported, to also go back into the closet.”
Lambda Legal has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society, Inc. on behalf of a former employee who was fired after they and other Dallas Arboretum employees began including their pronouns in their email signatures and wearing pins using their pronouns. Lambda Legal has also filed a Human Relations Discrimination Complaint with the City of Dallas under its “Unlawful Discriminatory Practices” ordinance which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“Lambda Legal’s client worked at the Dallas Arboretum for several years, had received uniformly positive evaluations of their job performance and grew the attendance of programs they managed by 30 percent,” said Nicholas Guillory, Tyron Garner Memorial Fellow, who represents the former employee at Lambda Legal. “The client’s job performance clearly was not the issue. Instead, it was our client’s gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression and attempts to make the culture more inclusive and welcoming for themselves, the employees and the thousands of tourists and visitors that come to the Arboretum each year, that resulted in their firing. According to its website, the Arboretum attracted over 650,000 visitors in 2020 and is one of the top botanical gardens in the world. It was wrong, it was illegal, it’s dehumanizing and that’s why we’ve filed these complaints. Every employee deserves dignity and respect for exactly who they are.”
After having been promoted in the summer of 2020, in the fall of 2020, the former Dallas Arboretum employee, a genderqueer lesbian, and other employees, began placing their pronouns in their email signature blocks. The Dallas Arboretum’s Senior Director of Experience and Innovation, Mr. Dustin Miller, then sent an email to all employees stating that they had to standardize their email signatures, including removing any reference to their pronouns. Lambda’s client and other employees removed their identifying pronouns even though the Dallas Arboretum continued to allow other employees to include quotes, Bible verses and other messages in their email signatures.
“Subsequently, the same director became our client’s supervisor. Within three weeks, Lambda’s client was disciplined for missing a meeting that other employees missed without consequence and being late to another meeting even though they also have a disability that the Arboretum knew about that can prevent them from walking well. Within four days of the disciplinary notice, our client was called into a meeting with their supervisor and the Director of HR who shared that neither they nor their team could introduce themselves with their pronouns or wear their pronoun pins. They told our client that the Dallas Arboretum is a conservative institution and that it would lose donors if it allowed employees to promote an agenda,” Guillory said.
“I felt like the Dallas Arboretum was forcing me to go back into the closet and that I was being required to ask my staff, whom I supported, to also go back into the closet. The following Monday morning, I was fired.” Lambda Legal’s client said. Since their termination, nearly all of the employees they hired, who were also LGBTQ+, have also quit or been fired from the Arboretum.
“I believe the Dallas Arboretum fired me because of who I am and because I had worked to make the Dallas Arboretum more inclusive for its employees and its visitors,” Lambda’s client added. “I want the remaining staff I hired and future employees like myself, to feel safe, respected and celebrated for who they are.”
A copy of the EEOC complaint is available here.
Lambda Legal attorneys Shelly L. Skeen and Nicholas Guillory are handling the case.