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Feds Sue Texas R.V. Park on Behalf of Transgender Woman

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 15, 2013 12:57 PM

The federal government has sued a Texas trailer park for violating the Fair Housing Act after a transgender woman and her partner were evicted.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas transgender woman Roxanne Joganik lived -- or attempted to live -- at the Texan RV Park in Athens, Texas from 2011 to 2012, but the park's most recent owner, George Toone, took issue with her wearing female clothing.

As a potentially huge case for transgender equality in the Fifth Circuit, what are the key issues?

Toone's Conduct Violated Fair Housing Act

The federal complaint filed in early October alleges that, based on the findings of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the allegations of Joganik and her partner, Toone violated the Fair Housing Act in choosing to coerce and ultimately evict Joganik and her partner.

The Fair Housing Act in its most current incarnation does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity -- the touchstone for many transgender discrimination suits -- but it does contain a prohibition against discrimination based on sex.

As Advocate.com reports, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in 2012 that federal prohibitions against sex discrimination applied to "bias against transgender people," so the federal government's position seems fairly clear.

The RV park owner had denied Joganik access to common areas if she choose to wear women's clothing, and Toone attempted to have Joganik and her partner sign an agreement stating that the RV park could evict a tenant for any reason other discrimination based on a protected class -- except sex and gender were curiously absent.

By denying Joganik access to the park's common grounds and attempting to subvert her federal rights, the complaint alleged that Toone was in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Is an RV a Dwelling?

Although it may sound like an insubstantial argument, according to Advocate.com, Toone denied the charges on the basis that Joganik's RV spot was not a "dwelling" under the Fair Housing Act.

The federal government disagreed in its complaint, and a quick plain reading of the statutory definition doesn't raise any immediate red flags against including RV park as a dwelling.

For perspective, the Ninth Circuit has found homeless shelters designed for temporary residence to fall under the aegis of the Fair Housing Act, so a spot in an RV park -- which houses both temporary and long term residents -- has a good chance of being considered a dwelling.

Bottom Line

This case is in its infancy, but it has the potential to create strong federal case law for transgender discrimination in Texas -- where there are no state prohibitions against gender identity discrimination.

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