Gay man sues Library of Congress, alleging discrimination

August 22, 2012

Peter TerVeer was an up-and-coming auditor for the Library of Congress’s inspector general’s office. His boss liked him so much that he tried to set him up with his single daughter.

But when the boss discovered that TerVeer was gay, he 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 suit alleges.

Library of Congress spokeswoman Audrey Fischer 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 to comment. Inspector General Karl W. Schornagel also declined to comment.

TerVeer is seeking reinstatement at his job, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress, and an order restraining Mech, lead auditor for Schornagel’s office,from continuing to discriminate against him.

The lawsuit also alleges that TerVeer faced retaliation when he filed a complaint 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.

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.”

Mech is a religious man who keeps a Bible on his desk at work, the lawsuit says.

In the context of a lighthearted 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 suit alleges.

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. Mech invited him to a University of Maryland football game with his wife and son, and introduced him to his daughter, Katie. The two became Facebook friends in January 2009.

In August 2009, 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,” the lawsuit says.

The suit alleges that a few days later, TerVeer received an e-mail from Mech mentioning his daughter and containing photographs of assault weapons with the caption, “Diversity: Let’s Celebrate It.”

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.

TerVeer’s work assignments grew beyond the scope of his experience, leading him to conclude that he was being set up to fail. 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 states. “TerVeer proclaims a Christian faith, but one that is accepting of his sexual orientation.”

TerVeer complained to Mech’s supervisor, Nicholas Christopher, according to the lawsuit. TerVeer alleges that Mech, with Christopher’s help, “continued to manufacture a negative paper trail” to downgrade TerVeer’s performance ratings. Christopher, who has left the inspector general’s office, declined to comment and referred questions to the agency.

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. The lawsuit asserts that library officials had signed off on his request for disability time off.

He has appealed his firing but is not being paid, his attorney said.

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