“Your entire life is just one big lie,” Charin Davenport’s former supervisor allegedly told her, according to a lawsuit filed today.
“You disgust me!" the lawsuit alleges Davenport was told, when she announced to her supervisor that she planned to dress and present as a woman. "I can’t even stand to look at you! This is not about your so-called ‘gender identity.’ This is about you being a liar.”
Davenport is suing Saginaw Valley State University and the supervisor, Ann Coburn-Collins, for illegal sex discrimination. The suit claims Davenport’s administrative job at the school was abruptly eliminated after Davenport told her supervisor she planned to transition to life as a woman.
“What I really hope is that, that conversation can begin,” Davenport says. “I think it needs to happen. It’s about who we are.”
A spokesperson for SVSU sent the following statement:
“We are aware of the lawsuit and we are confident that we will prevail in court, as all the facts come out. SVSU does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
We support all our students, faculty and staff, including those who are members of the LGBT community. We have a Pride Center on campus to serve those individuals and to contribute toward an inclusive campus environment.
Since this is pending litigation, we can have no further comment at this time.”
We sent Coburn-Collins an email and left her a voicemail asking for comment, but she didn’t immediately respond.
From glowing performance reviews, to an abrupt firing
Davenport says she still works at SVSU as an adjunct professor of English, a job she’s held since 2007.
Until March 2014, Davenport presented as a male, “consistent with her biological sex,” the lawsuit says, and went by the name Charles Davenport.
In 2012, she started working as the assistant to the director of Academic Programs Support, where she consistently got positive performance reviews, according to her lawsuit. In May 2013, Davenport says her supervisor, Ann Coburn-Collins, wrote in her evaluation:
“I want to thank you for your dedication to this office and to our mission. You are a valuable colleague who does everything I ask you to do.”
Then in the fall of 2013, Davenport says she told her colleagues and supervisor that she was undergoing a gender transition.
But even though the suit says Davenport and her supervisor were “close colleagues” – Davenport would house-sit for Coburn-Collins when she was traveling – her boss didn’t take the news well.
“It’s my fault,” Davenport’s supervisor told her, the lawsuit alleges. “I should have given you that full-time job so you wouldn’t have so much free time.”
Things went downhill from there. The lawsuit says Coburn-Collins then “stopped talking to her or even acknowledging her in public places.” Two months after her transition began, Davenport’s administration position was eliminated, “allegedly for budgetary reasons.”
Soon after, Davenport met with Coburn-Collins to ask why. That’s when the supervisor allegedly told her, “You’re a liar; you lied to me, to your family, to your friends, to this university. Your entire life is a lie,” and threw an object at her.
“I actually tried to close the door because she was so loud,” Davenport says. “And she says, ‘Hold it right there, mister – this is not about your so-called gender identity. This is about your being a liar.’ And I was just devastated. Even right now, I’m having a hard time – I’m sorry,” she says, holding back tears.
“So that was that! And that’s when I knew why I had been fired. And I just had a really hard time believing it at first. That was the last time we talked. You know, I was 57 at the time, and you just get to that age and it felt like – wait, my entire life has been leading up to this moment?” Davenport laughs. “It was hard.”
She says she wasn’t sure what to do at that point. She went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which Davenport’s attorney, Jennifer Salvatore, says ruled in Davenport’s favor.
Now Davenport is suing SVSU and Coburn-Collins on grounds of sex discrimination, including under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.