$20,000 judgment against Boston in our lawsuit alleging police violated transgender woman’s rights; Boston Public Health Commission pays additional $10,000

Our client Brenda Wernikoff has agreed to accept a judgment against the City of Boston in which the City pays her $20,000 to resolve her claim that she was falsely arrested and subject to discrimination for using the women’s bathroom at a homeless shelter. The lawsuit alleged that the City failed to train its police officers how to treat transgender people. The City offered to have judgment entered against it shortly after we filed the complaint.

Ms. Wernikoff is a transgender woman. (She was assigned male gender at birth, but she identifies as a woman and is legally female.) Boston ordinance 12-9.7 makes it illegal to discriminate against a transgender woman like Ms. Wernikoff from using women’s bathrooms. (Read the ordinance here.) On May 19, 2010, Ms. Wernikoff was using a stall in the women’s bathroom at the Woods Mullen Shelter. When Ms. Wernikoff emerged from her stall, BPD officer Loletha Graham-Smith arrested her for using the women’s bathroom. At the police station, male police officers degraded Ms. Wernikoff by ordering her to remove her top and jump up and down, causing her bare breasts to jiggle for the officers’ own amusement.

The case alleged the City did not have proper policies or training for its officers on interacting with transgender people. Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles have policies that guide officers’ interactions with transgender people, and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent decree with New Orleans requiring the development of such policies. The Boston Police Department is developing policies and training to ensure that Boston police officers treat transgender individuals respectfully and in accordance with the law. The City should train its police officers to follow the city ordinance regarding bathroom use, signed by Mayor Menino in 2002, and the new state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. (Read the state law here.)

Ms. Wernikoff also brought claims against two employees of the Woods Mullen Shelter, who violated shelter policy in addition to the city ordinance when they asked Officer Graham-Smith to remove Ms. Wernikoff from the women’s bathroom. The Boston Public Health Commission, which operates the shelter, offered Ms. Wernikoff $10,000 to settle her claims against the employees, Margaretta Collins and Vanessa Ellis.

Ms. Wernikoff hopes this judgment sends a message that government employees will be held accountable when they violate the law and human decency. Ms. Wernikoff hopes that her case will inspire other transgender people to step forward and assert their rights when they face discrimination.

Click here to read the complaint.

Click here to read the Boston Globe article.

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