HADDONFIELD, New Jersey — A transsexual New Jersey man has sued the drug-treatment center where he worked, claiming it discriminated against him when it fired him from a job that only a man can do: watching men urinate.
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Experts believe El’Jai Devoureau’s case is the first in the U.S. where a transgender employee has claimed an employer discriminated based on birth gender.
The question at the heart of a case is whether someone who is living as a man and recognized by the government as a man is one when it comes to employment.
Devoureau, 39, was born with female genitalia but says in his legal complaint that he always considered himself male.
Five years ago, he began counseling and male hormone treatments. In 2009, he had sex-reassignment surgery. His driver’s license, birth certificate and federal Social Security cards have all been reissued to reflect that he’s a man.
He says managers at Urban Treatment Centers in Camden believed he was a man when the drug treatment center hired him in June to monitor men as they gave urine samples for drug tests. Because of its nature, the job was open only to men — a prerequisite his lawyer says was appropriate.
According to his lawsuit, Devoureau went through one day of training. When he reported to work the next day, he said, a manager asked if he was male. He said he was, and the manager then asked if he had undergone any surgeries, according to the lawsuit. After he refused to answer, the lawsuit says, Devoureau was fired.
Devoureau, who lives in Gloucester County, filed a complaint through the state Division on Civil Rights in January and his lawsuit in state court on Friday. The case was first reported by The New York Times.
The company would not comment. Its lawyer, Michael Sweeney, did not immediately return a call.
In a response to the civil rights complaint, the company maintained that it was appropriate to remove Devoureau from the job because only men were allowed to hold the position.
New Jersey is one of a dozen states in the nation that bans discrimination based on transgender status, a law that was adopted in 2006 and took effect in 2007.