A fight against unjust firings

January 19, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C.--"When you hear about something wrong in the world, it's easy to feel powerless to change it...but I have never been fired for being gay before," said Toya Ross in her appeal to people in the North Carolina Triad after being fired from her non-payroll job at the Cascade Grandview apartments near downtown Greensboro.

Ross wasn't alone. After Signature Management took over the complex on December 1, three employees were faced with harassment and discriminatory firing. Rose Jackson, a transwoman, and David Reed, an out and proud gay man, were also terminated by manager Joan Roberson--both within 10 days of the new management takeover.

Both Jackson and Reed were cited for supplying "false information" on their employment applications. Neither was allowed to see the "falsified" applications when they made a request. Ross was terminated after Roberson learned that Ross was a proud member of the Triad's LGBT community and regularly performed in drag shows.

In addition, management has brought trumped-up charges of vandalism against Reed and Ross. All three have been issued eviction notices and been asked to vacate the property within 30 days.

Before the firings, all three faced abuse and harassment every day at work. For example, Jackson was no longer allowed to work behind the desk or give tours of the facility. Instead, she was relegated to housekeeping duties. Roberson told Reed and Ross that "a tranny isn't the first thing a parent needs to see when interested in renting our suites for their student."

Ross asked to switch around her work schedule because of conflicts. "I didn't feel I should lie about my life or my lifestyle, so I proudly said, 'I do nighttime entertainment here in the community,'" Ross said. After informing Roberson she performed as a drag king, life in the office became "a living hell" for Ross. Her room was even entered illegally by another employee. Reed received a threatening phone call that was traced back to an FBI phone number.

The three weren't "payroll" employees--they worked for the equivalent of a little more than $3 an hour, in addition to reduced rent. When they called the CEO of Signature Management, Mike Smith, he said that they were never employees of Signature or applicants, and he "knew for a fact" that they had not been discriminated against.

Law enforcement have been slow to follow up from the three to investigate, while a call from Roberson resulted in the arrest of Reed and Ross the very next day on the false vandalism charges.

Despite the fact that they have faced discrimination at every step of the way, Jackson, Reed and Ross are determined to fight back. They are giving interviews to equality organizations and news sources. They are also working with lawyers to file a lawsuit and are trying to get an equal-opportunity investigation launched against Signature.

Most importantly, they began a street war on January 14, with five hours of protests outside the Grandview Cascade, under the close watch of both uniformed and plainclothes police. About 50 people showed up in solidarity, including members of the LGBT community, Food Not Bombs and the International Socialist Organization. The Greensboro News and Record's editor saw the protest growing and sent a reporter to find out what was going on.

Ross made one thing very clear--this fight isn't over. And with the strong show of solidarity from the people of Greensboro, we can win this fight. "We by no means want our jobs back," Ross said, but the three have a clear understanding of the political ramifications of such discrimination being allowed to continue.

Activists say that Greensboro is going to "stand up and fight for what's ours...our rights!"

Further Reading

From the archives