Thursday, June 14, 2007

Donald 2.0

June 15, 2007

Ex-outreach head sues Democratic Party for anti-gay bias.

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--The former director of LGBT outreach at the Democratic National Committee is suing the party and three high level employees for discrimination by sexual orientation, retaliation and defamation.

Donald Hitchcock was fired last year after his partner, former Clinton administration official Paul Yandura, criticized the party for not doing enough on LGBT issues, particularly state marriage ban amendments. Yandura claims that the party viewed gays as primarily a source of donations.

Hitchcock, who worked for the DNC from June 2005 to May 2, 2006, says the party violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bars employment discrimination by sexual orientation. He says that besides firing him, they paid him less than non-gay employees doing similar work, and made false public statements that he was not doing his job.

He sued the DNC, its chair Howard Dean, its openly gay treasurer Andy Tobias, and deputy finance director Julie Tagen in District of Columbia Superior Court on May 1.

The defendants answered the complaint May 31, denying all the allegations.

Hitchcock says that in February, 2005, Dean led a restructuring of the DNC that included eliminating his LGBT outreach position, but not the outreach positions to other Democratic Party constituency groups. That action has been widely criticized.

Hitchcock was then hired to fill a new position as the director of the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council in June, 2005.

The conflict began when Hitchcock realized he was not being supported in the new position by the DNC and was being left out of key meetings.

In his complaint, Hitchcock repeats the claim that the DNC did not want to do political work with the LGBT community, and that the new position was, instead, all about fundraising.

Yandura, now a Democratic fundraiser, continues to be critical of the DNC, telling LGBT contributors that under Dean, the community is not being better served, only better solicited for funds.

“If your goal is simply to elect Democrats, then give to the Democratic National Committee,” Yandura told the Gay People’s Chronicle in March. “But if your goal is to make the Democratic Party better on LGBT issues, then your money should go to supportive state parties and independent LGBT groups like the Stonewall Democrats.”

The lawsuit says, “Mr. Hitchcock never received a budget or any senior staff support on LGBT issues. It was clear that the DNC’s highest priority for Mr. Hitchcock--and LGBT Americans--was securing financial contributions.”

According to the suit, Tagen blamed Hitchcock for failing to stop Yandura from publicly criticizing the party. Hitchcock says she told him “not to fight this fight” and that he was “going to get fired.”

Six days before Hitchcock was fired, Tagen sent an e-mail to Yandura saying he had done “a huge disservice to [Hitchcock].”

Hitchcock contends that the D.C. non-discrimination law was violated when Tagen blamed him for what his partner was doing.

“DNC had never fired James Carville for exceedingly critical statements made about the Democratic Party by his wife, Mary Matalin, counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney,” the complaint reads.

“Other heterosexual DNC employees or consultants also continued working with the DNC despite critical comments that they, or their close relatives, made about the Democratic Party,” it continues.

Hitchcock contends the DNC did not fire Sandi Jackson after her father-in-law criticized the party in 2006, and did not terminate consultant Donna Brazile after she criticized the party.

“Thus, the DNC treated Mr. Hitchcock differently because he is gay,” the complaint continues.

The suit also points to Federal Election Commission records showing that Hitchcock was paid $2,156 bi-weekly as the LGBT outreach director, while non-LGBT constituency directors were paid $2,508.

The records also show that DNC paid its former finance director Lindsey Lewis, who is gay, $500 less per week than his heterosexual replacement Carl Chidlow.

The suit also alleges that the DNC, and especially Dean and Tobias, told reporters and contributors that Hitchcock’s firing was due to poor job performance, and that Tagen told other DNC staff that Hitchcock had made racially insensitive comments suggesting “it’s gays against blacks.”

Hitchcock accuses the three of lying about him in order to create a pretext to move him out once Yandura’s comments began getting traction.

Hitchcock wants a jury to determine the amount of his award, which includes compensatory and punitive damages. He also wants retractions of the statements made on his job performance and racial insensitivity, and a public apology.

He is represented by attorney Lynne Bernabei of the Bernabei Law Firm in Washington and three of her associates.

The DNC, Dean, Tobias and Tagen are represented by Joseph Sandler of Sandler, Reiff, and Young in Washington, and chief DNC counsel Amanda LaForge.

Sandler issued a written statement saying the DNC will not respond outside the legal process other than, “[Hitchcock’s] charges have no merit and that DNC is committed to defending its position vigorously in court.”

“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 well be one-sided for a while.”

The case is before Judge Robert E. Morin.

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