Dress Rehearsal

Scott Matheis thought he'd found a great place to work -- until he asked to wear a dress

Over the weekend, Matheis decided that he liked his job enough to continue working there, even if he was required to dress in masculine mode. But when he came in Monday morning, Tyler informed him that he was being fired for making inappropriate remarks. He was given his paycheck, escorted to his desk to retrieve personal belongings and then ushered out the door.

Matheis believes his firing was the direct result of his request to work dressed as a woman: "I was so hurt by the entire thing. Maybe they weren't going to accept this, but that they were now accusing me of things? There was no need to ever accuse me of that -- just making up lies from God only knows what source."

Tyler, at BRI, referred calls to company president Don Kornblet. He would not discuss Matheis' firing directly. "We don't comment on specific circumstances relating to any current or former employee," he says. "However, we can tell you that BRI is firmly committed to career-growth opportunities without regard to gender, ethnic background age or any nonperformance factor.... We adhere to all the laws that govern hiring practices. Should this employee pursue a claim against BRI with the proper agencies, we are completely confident that BRI would be found to have acted entirely properly."

As it is, if BRI did fire Matheis because of his transgender issues, the firing would not be illegal under federal employment law. Matheis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and was told the law does not protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

He also filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. Denise Lieberman, legal director for the ACLU, agrees that transgender cases like Matheis' aren't addressed by anti-discrimination laws. "It's very unfortunate that in this day and age, a person's sexual orientation or their gender affiliation alone is a legitimate reason to fire someone," she says. "For someone like Mr. Matheis, he is going to have very little recourse under the law."

After he was fired, Matheis began looking for another job. This time, he decided to apply dressed as a woman, and he now uses the name Staci Scott Matheis. He wears a blond wig, large glasses and a small amount of makeup. As Staci, he favors long skirts and flats -- a neighborhood child said Staci looks like a schoolteacher. He called each potential employer before applying and explained his situation. And he found one that truly didn't care about his transgender status.

He now works in customer service at Southwestern Bell. He applied dressed as a woman and was hired. But before he began work, he suffered a bout of pneumonia and a minor heart attack. While recuperating, he says, it was easier to dress as a man, so he showed up for work in masculine attire. None of his co-workers or supervisors seemed to mind which way he dressed, he says. "Everybody knows," Matheis says. "Everyone has been wonderful about the entire thing."

At the phone company, it appears gender identity just doesn't matter.

"We really don't care, as long as the person can do the job and do it ethically," says Linda Rupard, associate director of compliance, diversity and equal-employment opportunity at Southwestern Bell. "It is our policy to have a very diverse workforce."

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