Gay Federal Employee Says Facebook 'Like' Led to Discrimination, Harassment and Firing

A gay federal worker filed discrimination complaint against Library of Congress.

April 13, 2012 — -- Peter TerVeer, 30, a gay auditor at the Library of Congress, said his "liking" a Facebook page that promoted gay adoption led to workplace discrimination, harassment and his eventual firing.

TerVeer said he'd had a "friendly" relationship with his supervisor, as well as "exemplary" marks and performance reviews before his boss learned he was gay.

TerVeer said the harassment started when his supervisor forwarded a "threatening" email to him stating "Diversity - Let's Celebrate It" alongside a picture of assault rifles.

Fired on April 6 for missing 37 consecutive workdays, TerVeer said he was on disability leave because of a severe anxiety disorder triggered by a hostile work environment. Although he said a supervisor had signed off on the leave, he said the Library of Congress said the leave had expired.

"It felt like the seams were coming undone on a career that I had moved halfway across the country for and that was my everything," TerVeer said.

He filed a complaint in late 2011 based on religious and sexual orientation harassment and discrimination with the Library of Congress' Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints Office, which is expected to respond by May 9. Thomas Simeone, TerVeer's attorney, said TerVeer could either accept its terms, file an appeal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a private lawsuit.

In February 2008, the Fremont, Mich., native moved to Washington, D.C., with high hopes. He'd been hired at the Library of Congress on a temporary basis and became a permanent management analyst in October 2008. In January 2009, he was placed on a career track, and received promotions in March 2009 and March 2011.

TerVeer said he had "dealt with" confrontations about his sexual orientation when he lived in Michigan and hoped to share his sexual orientation when he "was more established" in his job.

About four years before his move to D.C., TerVeer said he'd come out to his Christian parents, and although they're now "very supportive," that wasn't always the case.

"I had known there was a conservative element in my supervisor, and figured it would be better after transitioning into a new career," he said.

TerVeer said he and his supervisor had had a "very cordial relationship." They both enjoyed football and discussed politics. His supervisor invited TerVeer to a University of Maryland football game with his wife and son.

TerVeer said his supervisor "pushed" his daughter, whom TerVeer has never met, "onto me," and she then friended him on Facebook.

Around August 2009, TerVeer said he "liked" the Facebook page, Two Dads. It was around that time that Facebook had updated its privacy settings, publishing user actions on users' walls.

TerVeer said his supervisor's daughter saw the "like" action on his wall, and subsequently commented "You're not one of those weirdos, are you?" The next day, TerVeer said she "unfriended" him and blocked him from her Facebook page.

From that day on, TerVeer said he was treated differently at work. After TerVeer received the email with a photo of the rifles, he said his supervisor began to lecture him about religion.

A spokeswoman for the Library of Congress said the library does not comment on personnel matters.

"Library of Congress employees, like all employees in the federal government, have protection against workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act," the spokeswoman said in a statement. "Library employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination may avail themselves of an internal administrative process to address their equal employment opportunity complaints."

On June 21, 2010, TerVeer said his supervisor "directly confronted me about my sexual preference for the first time." TerVeer said his supervisor said he wanted to educate him on hell, and that it was a "sin" to be homosexual.

"He stated that as a homosexual I could never succeed because it was against God's law," TerVeer said in a March 13 affidavit provided to ABC News.

Four days later, the two discussed TerVeer's annual performance review. "My ratings were lower than they should have been," said TerVeer, and he questioned whether his supervisor's religious beliefs resulted in "wrongful discrimination" in grading his performance. In his affidavit,TerVeer said his supervisor became "extremely upset and vehemently denied that my homosexuality and his personal views had an impact on his ratings of me."

"He accused me of attempting to injure his career and reputation and to 'bring down the Library,' TerVeer said, and that his supervisor retaliated against him following that review.

The supervisor and a second-level supervisor held a meeting and accused TerVeer of insubordination. The accusation was not followed by an investigation, nor was TerVeer informed of his rights to report discrimination or harassment, said TerVeer.

TerVeer said his supervisor "set me up to fail," assigning a complex assignment with twice the work load and tighter deadlines. He also said his supervisor tried to interfere with his meetings with the internal Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints Office regarding his discrimination complaint.

"They took every effort to make sure that didn't happen," TerVeer told ABC News.

When TerVeer took disability leave without pay, the Library of Congress said he was "AWOL," according to TerVeer's lawyer, Simeone. The Library canceled TerVeer's health insurance retroactively, and unable to pay his rent, TerVeer was evicted from his apartment in February.

Though TerVeer has been getting by with help from friends, he said he has only $12 left and can't afford either the anti-anxiety medication or therapy he said he needs.

Roll Call reports that there may be legal precedent to help TerVeer succeed in court.

In 2008, a U.S. district court ruled that the Library of Congress violated federal law prohibiting sex discrimination when it rescinded a job offer to an applicant who was transitioning from male to female, Roll Call reported.

TerVeer said he would "like my life back," and he hopes that his story "will give a voice to people who don't have a voice in these situations."

"Personally, I applaud Peter for standing up," Simeone, TerVeer's lawyer, said. "He went through a horrible thing and rather just quit and go to another job he stood up for himself."