Job-Seeker Who Changed Her Gender Goes to Court

Diane Schroer says she felt
Diane Schroer says she felt "dismayed" when a job offer was rescinded. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Diane Schroer, a 52-year-old former Army Special Forces commander, testified yesterday in federal court that she was "disappointed and dismayed" when an official at the Library of Congress rescinded a job offer even though she was the star candidate.

The offer, for a job as a terrorism research analyst, was pulled the day after Schroer told her future boss that she was making the medical transition from being a man, David, to being a woman, Diane.

"I honestly felt a little surprised and shocked," Schroer testified during the first day of the trial in her discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress. Choking back tears, Schroer added that "every day, I wish the phone rang and they said, 'We made a mistake.' "

Schroer, who has completed the medical process of becoming a woman, is pursuing a sex discrimination case against the Library of Congress under the Civil Rights Act. The bench trial before U.S. District Judge James Robertson is expected to last about a week, and a ruling might not come until well after that, while the judge considers the facts of the case, as well as arguments over the reach of the law.

Schroer, of Alexandria, had a prestigious military career that ended in retirement in 2004 after seven years in the Army's Special Forces command. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Schroer became director of a 120-member classified organization that tracked and targeted international terrorists. She routinely briefed the country's top officials, including Vice President Cheney.

In court yesterday, Schroer testified that she had interviewed for the job at the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service under the name of David. After being offered the job in December 2004, Schroer went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant with Charlotte Preece, the woman she thought would be her future supervisor.

During lunch, Schroer told Preece she was undergoing the medical transition to become a woman. She also showed Preece photographs of what she looked like dressed as a woman to allay concerns Preece might have had about her workplace attire.

The lunch seemed to go well -- until they were headed out and Preece told Schroer that "you have given me a lot to think about," the retired Army colonel testified.

Preece's tone, Schroer testified, "was ominous."

The next day, Preece called to tell Schroer that "after a long and sleepless night, I have determined you are not a good fit and not what we want," Schroer testified.

Schroer is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and filed suit in 2005. Schroer is seeking the job offer that was rescinded and damages, which are legally capped at $300,000, said one of her attorneys, Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

The Library of Congress, represented by Justice Department attorneys, has argued that Schroer cannot sue because the Civil Rights Act does not protect transsexuals or prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

In court papers, Justice attorneys wrote that Preece rescinded the offer because she needed to fill the position quickly and was worried that Schroer's transgender status would require a long background check to obtain a required security clearance. Preece also was concerned that Schroer "might be unable to maintain high-level contacts in the military intelligence community" and "might not be viewed as credible" by members of Congress, the lawyers wrote.

Preece, who is expected to testify, also worried that the gender transition would divert Schroer's attention from her work, the lawyers wrote.

Under questioning by one of the ACLU attorneys, Sharon M. McGowan, Schroer said she has started a consulting firm. Schroer has contracts or subcontracts with a variety of federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense, she said.

Becoming a woman has helped her focus on work, she said.

"If anything, since my transition, things have been a lot clearer," Schroer said. "It feels like a big distraction has been removed from my life."

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