Trans woman sues SF-based nonprofit for retaliation

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 9, 2024
Share this Post:
Lauren Ganderson is suing grantmaking nonprofit Groundswell Fund after she was terminated. Photo: Courtesy Law Offices of Justice Ojo
Lauren Ganderson is suing grantmaking nonprofit Groundswell Fund after she was terminated. Photo: Courtesy Law Offices of Justice Ojo

A transgender woman fired by a San Francisco-based nonprofit has filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation after she said that she was harassed by a supervisor and terminated after she complained.

Lauren Ganderson is being represented by attorney Justice Ojo of the Law Offices of Justice Ojo. She is suing the grantmaking organization Groundswell Fund, where Ganderson worked from 2021 to 2023, according to a civil complaint filed in August in San Francisco County Superior Court. The complaint alleges six causes of action — including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

"Groundswell Fund is an organization that externally purports to advance the causes of marginalized people, including transgender people," the complaint states. "However, internally Groundswell Fund furthers a hostile culture for marginalized people, including transgender people."

According to its website, Groundswell Fund operates several grant programs, including a Black Trans Fund, which it states is the "first U.S.-based national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting, resourcing, and building the capacity of Black trans social justice leaders."

The nonprofit also has a Birth Justice Fund, a Rapid Response Fund, and others, according to its website.

"I'm filing my suit because I was attracted to this organization because of their mission statement," Ganderson told the Bay Area Reporter on January 8 during a phone call where she was joined by her attorney. "I love the cause; I loved my position. I had worked my way up through the ranks."

Ganderson is alleging that she "has been subjected to a continuous pattern of severe and pervasive harassment based on her gender identity," the complaint states. When she brought it up with her supervisor, IT director Robin Bundy, she was "consistently ignored," the complaint alleges.

The conflict first stemmed from a dispute over pay, the complaint states.

"Ganderson's cisgendered predecessor was paid more than Ms. Ganderson without a struggle," it states. "Ms. Ganderson complained about the pay disparity she received compared to her cisgender counterparts. After fighting, Ms. Ganderson was then compensated at the rate as her cisgendered predecessor."

Although Ganderson "performed extremely well in her role" — well enough to be promoted to senior IT manager — things soured when Bundy, a cisgender woman, was appointed to IT director, the lawsuit states.

"Starting in May 2022, Ms. Ganderson was again subjected to a continuous pattern of harassment based on gender identity and expression," the complaint states. "From the outset, Ms. Bundy debased Plaintiff and created a hostile work environment. This pattern of abuse continued and Plaintiff informed management of the abuse."

Ganderson gave some examples of the alleged harassment.

"It was mostly verbal because we work remotely; we weren't in an office together but via Zoom or just wherever she and I were in a meeting space," she said.

"For example, we had a meeting and she and I were meeting and she had asked me, point blank, how did I get to where I was at Groundswell," Ganderson said. "She began to nitpick at my job description. There were a lot of ways she'd belittle me and be condescending and that's where the harassment took place."

When asked for another example, Ojo said, "We don't want to give too much at this point."

Mediation between the two initiated by the company was unsuccessful after Bundy "belittled Ms. Ganderson ... during a conversation," according to the lawsuit.

In a second complaint to the company, Ganderson said that Bundy "belittled [Ganderson's] previous work experience and qualifications" in a video, which Bundy subsequently deleted, the complaint states.

The video was of a Zoom meeting, Ganderson told the B.A.R.

Ganderson took a leave of absence; a report from the company showed Bundy's "supervisorial style needed reflection," the complaint states. Upon her return from the leave of absence in January 2023, Ganderson was terminated.

Groundswell Fund did not return a request for comment. According to its IRS Form 990 for 2022, Groundswell Fund had a budget of about $53 million.

In 2022, the most recent year available, its Black Trans Fund distributed $875,000 in grants to 43 organizations in eight states and six national grantees, according to the program's annual report.

The suit is seeking lost earnings, benefits, and other prospective damages, as well as lost future earnings and benefits, since the complaint states Ganderson was planning on staying with Groundswell for the foreseeable future.

"The foregoing conduct of defendant's individually, or by and through their managing agents, was intended by the defendants to cause injury to the plaintiff or was despicable conduct carried on by the defendants with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights of plaintiff or subjected plaintiff to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of plaintiff's rights such as to constitute malice, oppression, or fraud," the complaint states.

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!