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Trans Woman Sues SF over Bathroom Use

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Tanesh Nutall
Tanesh Nutall  (Source:Courtesy TLC)

A transgender woman who claims a San Francisco city worker blocked her from using a women's bathroom and called her a "fucking freak" is suing the city.

At the time of the February 2016 incident, Tanesh Nutall, 52, worked for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and was attending a training that had been organized by the city's Department of Public Health at its building located at 25 Van Ness Avenue.

During a break at about 11 a.m., Nutall went to use the women's restroom located near the training room. Entry to the restroom required a key code, which was posted on the training room's wall.

Mary Ivas, who worked at what was then known as the city's Office of Citizen Complaints, which has an office near the training room, was entering the restroom as Nutall approached, so Nutall asked her, "Excuse me, miss, can you hold the door?" according to the complaint Nutall filed February 16 in San Francisco Superior Court.

Ivas turned and said, "No, this is a women's restroom," and quickly closed the door to block Nutall, Nutall claims.

Nutall says she went back to the training room and told Natalie Thoreson, the presenter, about the incident and asked her to come with her to the restroom so she could get in.

They saw Ivas as they approached the restroom, and Nutall says she told Thoreson, "That is the woman right there. She would not let me use the restroom."

Ivas turned to the women and said, "Yes, this is a women's restroom, and that is a fucking man." She then turned to Nutall and called her a "fucking freak," the complaint says.

Thoreson chided Ivas and asked for her name and whether she worked in the building. Ivas ignored the questions and "bolted down the hall" into an office, Nutall claims.

She says that she and Thoreson followed Ivas into the office and asked again for her name while trying to read her badge. Ivas refused.

Nutall went to talk to a security guard, and Ace Robinson, her supervisor at the AIDS foundation, joined her to support her, her complaint says. The guard told them to file a complaint with the city's Human Rights Commission, which is also located in the building.

Robinson helped Nutall start an intake interview with one of the commission's representatives, but Nutall was too "overwhelmed with distress" to finish.

Eventually, Joyce Hicks, who was then executive director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, approached Nutall and Robinson to talk about what had happened, and someone who was referred to as "OCC legal counsel" joined them. Hicks apologized for the incident and told them Ivas' name and that she was an OCC employee, according to Nutall's complaint.

Asked about the lawsuit, John Cote, a spokesman for the city attorney, said in a statement, "San Francisco respects the rights of all individuals, and the department apologized to Ms. Nutall after the incident and provided additional training to the now former-employee in question. But it is our understanding that the factual allegations in the complaint are not entirely accurate, and that the former employee did not violate Ms. Nutall's protected rights."

Ivas, whose LinkedIn page says she worked for the city as an investigator for more than 20 years, couldn't be reached for comment.

Nutall filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in June 2016 but that agency rejected her case, asserting that it doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate the city, according to her complaint.

In February 2017, Nutall filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The department found merit to Nutall's allegations, but after she and city officials were unable to resolve the case, the state agency filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court February 7 listing the Department of Police Accountability as the defendant. (The OCC was renamed the Department of Police Accountability in November 2016.)

Nutall's complaint from February 16, which was filed to complement the state's lawsuit, lists as defendants the renamed department and its interim executive director, Paul Henderson; the Department of Public Health and its director, Barbara Garcia; and the city.

Ivas' actions show that San Francisco officials "failed in their obligation to properly train and/or supervise their employees" regarding their legal obligations, and their failure to train staff directly caused the "harassment, intimidation," and Nutall's "unlawful exclusion from the restroom," her complaint says.

Through her lawsuit, Nutall is seeking damages exceeding $25,000 and "a permanent injunction ordering all defendants and their agents and employees to cease engaging in the unlawful conduct" she described, along with other relief.

Nutall, who in a brief call with the Bay Area Reporter declined to say where she lives now, claims in her lawsuit that she's suffered panic attacks, depression, and other problems and has had to take medications and get therapy as a result of the incident. She also ended up being late for work or missing it entirely, and the AIDS foundation "constructively terminated" her in April 2017.

Flor Bermudez, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, which is representing Nutall, told the B.A.R. that "the allegation is that she was constructively fired from the AIDS foundation because she didn't receive the support she needed to handle what happened." (Constructive termination generally means that conditions at work have become so intolerable or hostile that one is forced to resign.)

Nutall hasn't yet filed a claim against the AIDS foundation.

Andrew Hattori, a spokesman for the nonprofit, said he couldn't comment, since it's a personnel matter.

Supporters held a rally for Nutall Tuesday at San Francisco City Hall.

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