Former gay outreach adviser sues DNC
Posted by pozlife on June 6, 2007
Hitchcock accuses Dean, others of discrimination, retaliation
by Joshua Lynsen | Jun 6, 10:37 AM
A former gay outreach adviser for the Democratic National Committee has sued the organization, alleging discrimination.
In a lawsuit against the DNC, its chair, Howard Dean and two party officials, Donald Hitchcock says he was the target of discrimination, retaliation and defamation during and after his tenure as director of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council.
The lawsuit was filed April 17 in D.C. Superior Court. Responses were filed May 31.
Hitchcock, who joined the DNC in June 2005, was fired May 2, 2006. The termination came days after Hitchcock’s domestic partner, Paul Yandura, a longtime party activist, sent an open letter to gay Democrats saying Dean failed to adequately defend gay rights.
Yandura’s letter, sent in April 2006, criticized Dean and the party for not getting involved in state ballot measures seeking to ban gay marriage. It also suggested that gays should temporarily withhold donations to Democrats.
“This is retaliation, plain and simple,” Yandura told the Blade last year. He did not immediately respond this week to interview requests.
Hitchcock, meanwhile, said that he has been advised by his lawyer not to discuss the lawsuit.
Answers filed by DNC attorneys challenge “each and every” one of the lawsuit’s allegations.
“The DNC strongly believes that Donald’s charges have no merit and the DNC is committed to defending its position vigorously in court,” said Joe Sandler, the DNC’s general counsel.
“We regret that we cannot say much more publicly and we ask that readers of this and other publications keep in mind that since the DNC is not able to speak publicly about the case, everything you’ll see may be one-sided for a while. We hope people understand why and ask that they take that into account.”
Problems began early: lawsuit
The complaint says Hitchcock’s troubles at the DNC began shortly after he was hired.
It says Hitchcock, who was brought aboard primarily for finance activities, was told early during his tenure that he also would participate in political discussions.
But despite the promise from Julie Tagen, the DNC’s deputy finance director, and others, the complaint says the DNC didn’t support Hitchcock “to the same extent” it supported representatives of other constituencies.
“Mr. Hitchcock had to lobby for months to be included in regularly scheduled political department meetings,” it says. “When he attended these meetings on his own volition, uninvited by the DNC of other constituency groups, other staff treated him with hostility.”
The complaint says the DNC’s political director, Pam Womack, routinely “punted responsibility” for gay outreach work to the organization’s finance department.
“It was clear that the DNC’s highest priority for Mr. Hitchcock — and for LGBT Americans — was securing financial contributions,” it says.
In their answers, the defendants deny any gay outreach work was relegated to the finance department and that the DNC’s priority for gay Americans was securing donations.
The complaint says Hitchcock spent months trying to become involved with the DNC’s political and outreach activities regarding gays, but made little progress.
During this time, the complaint says, Yandura became increasingly critical of the DNC and the organization’s handling of gay issues and constituents.
According to the complaint, Yandura criticized “the DNC’s de-emphasis of LGBT issues, its lack of a comprehensive LGBT strategy, and its refusal to give the LGBT community a real seat at the DNC table.”
The criticism culminated in an open letter that the complaint says “urged donors to refrain from contributing money to the DNC until the DNC started affirmatively supporting the rights of the LGBT community.”
The complaint says the letter was written without Hitchcock’s knowledge and sent April 20, 2006.
Letter spurred fallout
Five days after the letter was sent, the complaint says, Tagen “lost her temper and launched into a loud tirade” against Hitchcock during a DNC meeting on gay issues.
“She blamed Mr. Hitchcock for failing to stop Mr. Yandura from sending his letter to donors in which he criticized the DNC for not defending the rights of its LGBT constituents,” it says. “She told Mr. Hitchcock that Mr. Hitchcock needed to ‘stop it,’ referring to Mr. Yandura’s public criticisms of the DNC. She also told Mr. Hitchcock ‘not to fight this fight,’ and that he was ‘going to get fired.’”
In her response, Tagen denies that she told Hitchcock that he was going to get fired.
The response also says that while she informed Hitchcock it was his duty “to respond to criticism of the DNC from members of the GLBT community,” she cannot “admit or deny” she used the exact words used in the complaint.
In the aftermath of that meeting, the complaint says Andy Tobias, the DNC’s treasurer, asked Yandura to recant, fearing the organization would suffer and be forced to cut costs.
It says Tobias suggested to Yandura “that the DNC could cut costs by eliminating Mr. Hitchcock’s position,” and the comment “clearly constituted a threat to Mr. Hitchcock’s employment.”
In his response, Tobias denies that he ever threatened to eliminate Hitchcock’s position.
The complaint says on his final day at the DNC, Hitchcock met with executive director Tom McMahon and chief of staff Rev. Leah Daughtry.
According to the complaint, McMahon and Daughtry told Hitchcock at that meeting that he was not being effective in his job.
“They gave Mr. Hitchcock the option to resign or be fired,” it says. “When Mr. Hitchcock asked for more time to make a decision, Rev. Daughtry insisted on an immediate answer. After Mr. Hitchcock refused to resign, Rev. Daughtry fired him.”
Hitchcock’s lawsuit alleges he was discriminated against and treated differently because he is gay.
It also alleges the DNC “threatened, interfered with and retaliated against” Hitchcock because he advocated for gay issues within the DNC.
The lawsuit further alleges that Dean, Tagen and Tobias separately defamed Hitchcock, and that defamation “had the intended effect of seriously damaging his professional reputation, which was otherwise outstanding.”
In responses filed by the DNC, Dean, Tagen and Tobias, the defendants collectively deny the allegations.
The responses say the defendants “did not at any time discriminate” against Hitchcock and “did not threaten, interfere with or retaliate against” him.
The responses also say Hitchcock’s lawsuit lacks “a claim upon which relief can be granted,” and the allegations of discrimination, retaliation and defamation “are barred by the statute of limitations.”
A scheduling conference for the case is set for Sept. 7. No trial date has been set.
Joshua Lynsen can be reached at email@example.com.
Source: Express Gay News Online