BOISE – The Idaho Human Rights Commission says a Boise library employee was sexually harassed and discriminated against on the job because they are nonbinary.
The independent state agency’s finding potentially clears the way for 29-year-old Jax Perez to file a discrimination lawsuit, if Perez chooses to do so. In a decision first reported by BoiseDev.com, the commission found that Perez, who does not identify as a man or woman and uses gender-neutral pronouns, was disciplined over an incident with a hostile patron at least in part because Perez is nonbinary.
Perez said that learning of the commission’s decision was an emotional moment.
“Quite frankly, I broke down crying,” Perez told the Idaho Statesman. “My rights as a human, my rights as a trans individual, my rights as a queer individual are real.”
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said the city was still reviewing the ruling, and she noted that the incidents took place before she entered office at the start of 2020. A group of employees is working on policies and hiring practices to ensure the city has a diverse workforce that is reflective of the community, McLean said.
“We are committed to ensuring that we’re an equitable and welcoming place for all employees,” McLean said. “We’re reviewing that ruling and when we receive recommendations, we’ll look at how we can learn from the recommendations and what we can do so these things don’t happen again.”
According to the commission’s 19-page decision issued April 30, Perez, who no longer works for the library, was disciplined in June 2019 for two incidents involving Gay Pride month events.
In one, Perez organized an event at the library where a drag queen talked about Pride Month and makeup. Perez promoted the event on a neighborhood Facebook page, where several people made critical comments. In one online conversation, Perez called the dissenter a “transphobe.”
The library later received complaints about the interaction, prompting then-Library Director Kevin Booe to send a letter to Perez’ direct supervisor demanding disciplinary action.
“I do not want to see this happen again, and frankly, I don’t see a future for (Perez) at BPL,” Booe wrote.
The second incident arose June 19, 2019, after Perez organized a Gay Pride display at the library that included rainbow pins that were given away. A library visitor objected to the pins being made available to his children and said it was like giving marijuana-themed pins to children.
Perez replied, “As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I am sorry you feel that way.”
That patron later sent an email to library staff saying he felt ridiculed for his beliefs and demanding an apology, and he returned to the library the next day where Perez said the man stared in a “sinister way” for 10 to 15 minutes. That same day, Perez sent Booe a summary of what happened.
Booe then sent an email to library supervisors, referring to Perez using the wrong pronouns and demanding the supervisors provide an “exit strategy” to remove Perez from the library job.
On June 20, 2019, the city sent Perez a “notice of intent to discipline,” alleging their interaction with the patron who confronted them constituted insubordination, exhibiting antagonistic or retaliatory behavior toward city customers, and/or failure to satisfactorily perform job duties.
Sarah Martin, a human relations compliance officer for the city, later informed Booe that termination was not warranted. The city instead issued Perez a written warning that their interaction with the patron was inappropriate. The warning also said that it was also inappropriate for Perez to tell the patron they were part of the LGBTQ community.
Perez filed a complaint with human relations against Booe, claiming they were harassed by the patron and were being silenced and discriminated against by the library due to their inability to act when confronted about gender identity. The city claimed that Perez’s identification as a member of the LGBTQ community constituted a “belief or a conviction.”
The commission disagreed, saying Perez belonged to a protected class, that Booe’s role as library director influenced Perez’s discipline, and that his emails indicated a lack of understanding of gender issues, Perez’s personal identity and the city’s own policy commitments.
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