Ariana Losco said that she was a good employee at Rocky Mountain Care, a nursing home in Tooele. In the six months she worked there, Losco said she worked up to two weeks in a row without a single day off and only missing work when she was too sick to go in.
But despite her dedication to her job, Losco said she was fired on Thursday, Jan. 10 because she talked to a reporter from the Associated Press about harassment she experienced after co-workers discovered that she had sexual reassignment surgery 13 years ago. The article quoted her as saying that her shifts had been cut and that fellow employees had said cruel things to her.
“It's been pure hell,” Losco told reporter Brock Vergakis. “I've gone home many times crying, but I have to do it. I have to have a paycheck.”
The day after the story was published Losco said she was called into facility administrator Jonathan Bengeder’s office.
“He said, ‘This came out yesterday in the paper,’” Losco recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, I’m a member of Equality Utah and they’re fighting to get an [employee non-discrimination bill] passed, and I lent my voice to the cause.’ He said, ‘That’s all well and good, but this is why you’re being terminated today.’”
Losco said Bengeder then explained that she was being fired because she “embarrassed the nursing home” – despite the fact that the facility was not named in the AP story.
“After I got home I thought of a hundred things to say, but what I should’ve said was, “If there’s any embarrassment it should be on the staff for telling me to suck it up and grow a thick skin,’” said Losco.
What the AP article didn’t say, Losco said, was that the shorter work hours and nasty comments were only the tip of the iceberg.
“I was being sexually harassed and discriminated against,” she said.
Losco alleges that a female supervisor verbally and physically abused her while at work, and often in the presence of other employees. After the supervisor found out that Losco was transgender, Losco said the harassment started.
“It was very stressful she went around and told everybody I was transsexual and everyone went around looking at me like I had a third eye,” said Losco. “At one point, she said, ‘I won’t work with a freak like you. You’re just filled with insecurity because you have breasts and a penis.’”
Losco has asked QSaltLake to not name the supervisor at this time.
Losco said she tried to report the verbal harassment each time it happened. “I went to my employer and wrote a report for each incident and I was told, “We’re not going to discuss any of this because it’s a personal matter between you and your supervisor,” she said. “I told them it was work related, because it was happening at work.”
Losco alleges that the supervisor grabbed her wrist on Nov. 13, after she had filed a complaint about her verbal abuse.
As Losco describes it, she was in a meeting room alone when her supervisor entered and refused to let her leave for half an hour, despite what Losco said were her repeated requests to be left alone. When Losco tried to leave, she said the supervisor grabbed her by the wrist and flung her arm downward.
“She was yelling things like, “No! You aren’t going anywhere. If you’re going anywhere you’re going to the time clock and leaving now,” Losco said.
Losco said she wrote this incident up as well, and took a statement from a nurse who witnessed what had happened. She said her supervisor apparently found out about the report, because there was another incident on Nov. 14. This time, Losco said the supervisor confronted her while she was working with a patient and told her the report was “hysterical.”
Losco said she then filed another report and told another supervisor she would call the police, which she also did.
At this time, she said Rocky Mountain Care’s human resources department got involved. She said a human resources employee took her statement and her supervisor’s, but that the department ultimately said it was a matter between two employees that had to be worked out.
“They basically said we’re not going to discuss anything that was said between you and her … because it’s not work related,” Losco said.
Don Huntley, the facility’s personal manager, said that he didn’t have a comment on Losco’s allegations, or her firing.
“We don’t think a private matter between two employees should be discussed in the paper,” he said.
However, in Brock Vergakis’ follow-up article, Huntley was quoted as saying that Losco was fired because she disparaged the company. Rocky Mountain Care was not named in the original AP article.
For now, Losco said she is just trying to find a lawyer. But because Utah law does not list gender identity and sexual orientation in workplace anti-discrimination legislation, she said no lawyer will take her case.
“I didn’t expect to get fired because I spoke up,” she said. “I’m low income, I don’t have any savings, my husband is disabled and now we’re both unemployed. It’s going to get bad really quick. I’m really depressed, as you can imagine.”
Will Carlson, Public Policy Manager for gay-rights group Equality Utah, called Losco’s case a prime example of Utah’s unjust workplace antidiscrimination laws.
“Ariana’s situation shows the double bind people have when they face employ discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “If they say nothing they keep getting harassed and if they speak up they risk loosing their job because they’ve made waves.”
But Losco said she will continue to make waves.
“Yes, there’s going to be a backlash but what you gain from it is so much more important,” she said.