November 17, 2011
Housing Works filed a lawsuit today against Phoenix House, a national alcohol and drug treatment provider, as well as the director of its Brooklyn facility, on behalf of a transgender Brooklyn resident.
The suit alleges that Phoenix House violated both New York State and City human rights laws when it engaged in blatant transgender discrimination against one of its program participants, Ms. Wilson. Ms. Wilson is seeking damages as well as the implementation of changes such as staff trainings and written procedures at Phoenix House to ensure the proper treatment of transgender program participants.
"Phoenix House and its Brooklyn director violated Ms. Wilson's fundamental human right to express her gender identity, and expelled her from the program as a result of her attempts to do so," said Housing Works Staff Attorney Ignacio Jaureguilorda. "Phoenix House is supposed to help people but instead exacerbated Ms. Wilson's struggles with substance use."
Ms. Wilson, who has identified as female since she was 14, entered Phoenix House as an alternative to incarceration. Despite her gender identity, Ms. Wilson was prohibited from dressing as a woman, and prohibited from participating in a women's support group, even after she won the support of the women in that group.
The lawsuit describes Phoenix House's repeated unwillingness to make accommodations for Ms. Wilson's gender identity, culminating in the decision to terminate her from the program despite the fact that, during her stay at Phoenix House, Ms. Wilson had made significant -- and more than sufficient -- progress in her rehabilitation to merit advancement.
Distraught by her treatment at Phoenix House, Ms. Wilson left without permission, and, as a direct result of the discrimination she suffered there, relapsed into drug use, failed to complete her drug treatment requirement, and was incarcerated for two and one-half years.
Housing Works is a leader in the fight for transgender human rights in New York City and New York State. It codrafted the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination against transgender New Yorkers and has passed the State assembly three times.