Vanderbilt transgender employee Olivia Hill files lawsuit against university for discrimination – The Vanderbilt Hustler
Editor’s Note: This article contains a graphic mention of harassment.
Olivia Hill, the first Vanderbilt employee in transition while employed by the university, deposit a lawsuit against Vanderbilt on September 29, 2021, citing alleged discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex, gender identity and disability.
Hill has held a variety of positions, including Plant Supervisor and Acting Plant Manager, during his 25 years mandate at the Vanderbilt Power Plant. She was put on paid administrative leave in December 2019, where she remains to this day. Hill said she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the end of 2017, which qualifies she as a disabled person under Article 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The 28-page lawsuit alleges Hill faced “widespread”, “continuing” and “egregious” incidents of discrimination in 2019, particularly after returning to work in May 2019 after her bridging surgery. Hill said these reported conditions resulted in an unsafe work environment and violated academic non-discrimination Politics.
“Being recognized and accepted for who we are is essential to Vanderbilt’s teaching and learning mission, ”read a college press release emailed to The Hustler. “We take complaints to the university seriously as we continue to move forward in our commitment to foster an inclusive community. As a general rule, we generally do not discuss employment details or pending legal issues in order to protect the privacy of those involved.
Hill said she was harassed by her co-workers after she revealed herself as transgender in the Vanderbilt community in July 2018. She said some employees refused to accept her, many for religious reasons. Due to personal safety concerns following these alleged incidents, Hill said she delayed her gender-affirming surgery for nine months until February 2019.
“In August 2018, Ms. Hill learned that her direct supervisor, Tim Cook, had discussed her transition with engineers and contractors she works with and that he was using terrible slurs to describe her, such as ‘that’, “Trans freak” and “weird”, among other names, ”reads the lawsuit.
The Hustler’s email request for comment to Cook was returned with a server-generated response indicating that he is no longer employed by Vanderbilt. The email deferred inquiries to Deputy Vice Chancellor of Plant Operations Mark Petty, who has yet to respond to The Hustler’s request for comment.
When Hill returned to work in May 2019 following her procedure, she says her colleagues avoided her and treated her differently. The lawsuit also alleges that some male workers refused to present themselves to Hill as their boss.
“People would stop talking and leave when she entered a room, none of which was approached by her superiors,” the lawsuit read. “Mr. Cook also treated her differently than before her transition by no longer inviting her to meetings that she had always been included in the past and at which she should be present given her professional responsibilities; he also intentionally hidden important information about plant equipment.
In response to Hill’s complaints about this reported discrimination, the lawsuit says Petty told Hill to “leave her emotions at home and just do her job.”
According to the lawsuit, Petty and other colleagues also allegedly refused to use Hill’s correct pronouns and name, calling him “sir” and by her. death name. He states that he criticized his appearance and asked intrusive questions regarding his hygiene. The lawsuit further details the alleged harassment Hill suffered.
“Ms. Hill was accosted at work by a salesperson who pulled her close to him, looked down at her shirt and said, ‘You have beautiful eyes,” ”the lawsuit read. “One of them [her co-workers] asked her if she was a virgin and if he could be the first to “fuck her” and “be the first to use her new vagina”.
Hill also said she faced verbal sexism from coworkers and supervisors, including stereotypical comments about women as being concerned about their appearance.
“It basically validates everything every woman has talked about over the past five to eight years,” Hill said. “For me it’s as much about women as it is about trans rights because the way they made me is bad on both levels.”
According to the lawsuit, the power station does not have a toilet or changing room for women. However, there were two men’s washrooms and two men’s locker rooms, which Hill said was sexist towards her as the only factory employee. Plant operations, which encompass the powerhouse, directed The Hustler to Scott Eller, the powerhouse human resources representative, for information regarding the plant’s facilities. Eller has yet to respond to The Hustler’s request for comment.
The lawsuit also claims that the factory has a one-cabin, gender-neutral bathroom, but is often unavailable because it is frequently used as a break room. Hill attempted to reorient this bathroom at a women’s facility but was shot, according to the lawsuit.
“In November 2019, Ms. Hill asked Mr. Cook and Mr. Lampley if she could do this [the single-stall bathroom] a bathroom for women and control room operators only, and they said yes, ”the lawsuit read. “After Ms Hill followed a sign on the door and changed the locks, Mr Lampley berated her via email and Mr Cook told another employee (Chase Bland) that ‘she [Ms. Hill] don’t make decisions here, let anyone use the bathroom if they want.
Mitch Lampley, director of engineering and technical support for plant operations, has yet to respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on these reported incidents.
In an effort to process and receive compensation for these alleged incidents, Hill said he met with Cara Tuttle Bell, director of the Safe Project Center for Sexual Inconduct Prevention and Response, end of November 2019, and Anita Jenious, Director of the Equal Employment Opportunities Office at Vanderbilt (EEOO), in early December 2019. She then filed a complaint with the EEOO detailing the discrimination reported above. Neither Jenious nor Tuttle Bell responded to The Hustler’s request for comment on this process.
“Ms. Hill was informed by Ms. Jenious, the office manager of Vanderbilt EEOO, that the investigation was unable to corroborate her claims and that is why it was dismissed without further action, but in fact this was not true. ” Another employee was present and had heard Ms Hill being called ‘sir’ by Deputy Vice Chancellor Mark Petty at a meeting of department heads.
Hill also filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in September 2020 Hill said she was highly qualified for the position given her long tenure and the variety of roles she has held in the department, including that of Acting Plant Manager.
Abby rubenfeld, one of Hill’s attorneys, said Hill’s party had made an effort to work with the university to reach a settlement. However, she said those attempts were in vain, which prompted them to take the lawsuit.
“We tried to work with them, we mediated with Vanderbilt, we negotiated with Vanderbilt to try to sort it out,” Rubenfeld said. “They weren’t realistic and not serious about what they were proposing.”
To create a more inclusive Vanderbilt
Hill told The Hustler that this situation does not interfere with her work as an ally and activist for Vanderbilt’s LGBTQ + community. She was honored as Defender of the Year 2020 speak Office of LGBTQI Life during an administrative leave and won the Chancellor’s Heart and Soul Award 2018-19. According to Hill, she also continued to participate in many equity, diversity and inclusion groups at Vanderbilt despite being on leave.
“It shows that even though I was on paid administrative leave, how hard I was working for everyone at Vanderbilt, ”Hill said. “I always stood up for women, I always stood up for LGBT rights, I always did my best to help as many people as possible.”
She highlighted her approval of Vanderbilt Gender Affirmation Toolkit for Vanderbilt Employees. This guide deals with names and use of pronouns, prevent and respond to sexist harassment and resources for reporting discrimination, among other topics.
“We have taken intentional steps to help our employees feel respected, included and safe in their work environment, including providing Resources for employees who identify as transgender, genderqueer or non-binary, as well as the managers who support them, ”said the university press release.
However, Hill said the university and employee’s alleged disregard for these policies is hypocritical.
“If they [Vanderbilt] only did what they said they would do and nothing else, they would be one step ahead of other people and other businesses, ”Hill said. “Vanderbilt has some great policies, but they talk and they don’t work.”
Brianna Nesbitt, temp worker director of the Office of LGBTQI Life, referred her comments on this situation to the university.
Hill also said her transition to a female presenter made her aware of the privilege of men in society. She described how she now worries more about her safety and gained a new sense of vulnerability.
“The most important thing with my transition is the loss of my male privilege that I didn’t know I had. I never walked out of a bar at midnight or down a dark alley to my car and was worried, ”Hill said. “I have spent the last two or three years walking around apologizing to all the women I have known and trying to open the eyes of all the men in the world.”
As a result, Hill said she sparked conversations within her community about the prevalence of sexism and male privilege.
” I have ended several KEYS for the Tennessee Bar Association [and] I speak in public, ”Hill said. “I try to really tell people: this is real.”