Peter TerVeer was an up-and-coming auditor for the Library of Congress’s inspector general’s office. His boss liked him so much he tried to set him up with his single daughter, TerVeer says.
But when the boss discovered TerVeer was gay after learning from his daughter TerVeer “Liked” a Facebook page for same-sex parents, the supervisor harassed him with religious-based homophobia — and eventually got him fired, TerVeer alleges in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court in Washington, claims that TerVeer, 30, suffered discrimination based on sex stereotyping and his religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
It charges that TerVeer was subjected to a hostile work environment for more than a year by his supervisor, John Mech, who quoted biblical passages to him condemning homosexuality.
“Aside from creating a hostile environment in which he imposed his religion and sexual stereotypes, Mech began creating a paper trail to support his ultimate goal of driving TerVeer out of the Library of Congress,” the lawsuit claims.
Library of Congress spokeswoman Audrey Fischer had no comment on the lawsuit; she said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The library has 60 days to file a response to the allegations in court.
Mech, reached at his office Wednesday, declined comment. Inspector General Karl W. Schornagel also declined comment.
TerVeer is seeking reinstatement to his job, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress and an order restraining Mech, lead auditor for the Inspector General from continuing to discriminate against him.
The lawsuit also charges that Mech and Nicholas Christopher, Mech’s supervisor, violated federal law by retaliating against TerVeer when he filed a complaint against them with the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office.
“Things got worse and worse,” Thomas J. Simeone, one of TerVeer’s attorneys, said in an interview.
Christopher has left the inspector general’s office and could not be reached for a comment.
The EEO office concluded that TerVeer had not suffered discrimination, Simeone said. “So we went to court, to get out of the entire administrative process and have a jury figure this out,” Simeone said.
Mech is a religious man who makes his faith known in the workplace, according to the lawsuit. He keeps a Bible on his desk and, on occasion, “interjects a non-secular tone into his written and oral communications,” according to the lawsuit.
In the context of a light-hearted political discussion in June 2009, Mech told TerVeer that “putting you closer to God is my effort to encourage you to save your worldly behind[ ] !!!!!!” the lawsuit says.
TerVeer started as a temporary employee in the inspector general’s office in February 2008, and within eight months was hired full-time. He received a promotion the following year.
He and his boss developed a close relationship, TerVeer says. Mech invited him to a University of Maryland football game with his wife and son, and introduced him to his daughter, Katie. They became Facebook friends in January 2009, according to the lawsuit.
In August of that year, TerVeer pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page called “TwoDads.us,” which fosters support for same-sex parents fighting anti-gay bullying. Mech’s daughter saw TerVeer’s page and posted the comment “Don’t tell me you’re weird like that,” according to the lawsuit.
A few days later, TerVeer received an e-mail from John Mech mentioning his daughter and containing photographs of assault weapons with the cutline, “Diversity: Let’s Celebrate It,” according to the lawsuit.
From then on, religious lectures were routine, the lawsuit alleges, making TerVeer uncomfortable. During an unscheduled meeting, Mech tried to “educate TerVeer on Hell and that it is a sin to be homosexual” and began reciting Bible verses from Leviticus, the lawsuit states.
TerVeer’s work assignments grew beyond the scope of his experience, leading him to conclude he was being set up to fail, the lawsuit says.
He received a negative performance review.
“Now, at the beginning of almost every work-related conversation, Mech would engage in a religious lecture to the point where it became clear that Mech was targeting TerVeer by imposing his conservative Catholic beliefs on TerVeer throughout the workday,” the lawsuit says. “TerVeer proclaims a Christian faith, but one that is accepting of his sexual orientation,” the lawsuit says.
TerVeer charges in the lawsuit that Mech, with Christopher’s help, “continued to manufacture a negative paper trail” to downgrade TerVeer’s work performance ratings.
After TerVeer says he was advised by his doctor to take an extended medical leave to deal with his stress, he was ultimately fired for missing 37 consecutive workdays, he says. The lawsuit claims library officials had signed off on his request for disability time off.
TerVeer has appealed his firing, but is not being paid, his lawyer said.
Related: Copy of the lawsuit (pdf).