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Another former Dallas Arboretum employee alleges LGBTQ discrimination

A couple takes a selfie in a tree-lined walkway at the Dallas Arboretum.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
The Dallas Arboretum.

Another employee at the Dallas Arboretum has alleged gender and sexuality-based discrimination and has filed an EEOC complaint. The Arboretum promises its own investigation.

David Jeffcoat worked as a gate attendant for over six years there. He said he generally kept his personal life to himself. He received a promotion to operations supervisor last year, and said his superiors promised him training and feedback in the new role because it would take at least a year to master.

In October, Jeffcoat’s husband got sick with COVID-19. He told his supervisors his male “partner” had exposed him to the virus, as per Arboretum policy.

After that, things changed.

“It was like they were not trying to help me at all, they were just trying to tell me what to do,” Jeffcoat told KERA. “Seeing if they could make it tough enough on me to where I would quit. That’s what it felt like.”

In an emailed statement, the Arboretum said it respects the LGBTQ+ community, and noted an upcoming celebration for Pride Month: the “Pride in Bloom” event on June 11.

“The Arboretum takes all allegations of discrimination very seriously, including allegations of sexual orientation discrimination,” the statement said. “We are sad that an employee would feel they had been treated unfairly. We will thoroughly investigate the allegations made by the former employee."

In the discrimination complaint Jeffcoat filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he said his bosses started scheduling him for back-to-back shifts. They gave him one day to set up the popular “Christmas Village,” with little guidance. When he left a tote of decorations inside one of the small village houses – decorations he didn’t know were destined for the trash — an Arboretum vice president cursed at him in front of multiple coworkers.

“This treatment was markedly different from the treatment he had received before,” the complaint says. “No longer was the Arboretum providing him with the training, assistance, support and feedback it promised him when he first began as the Operations Supervisor.”

This is the second EEOC complaint brought against the Arboretum this year by Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ civil rights organization. The first was in January. An anonymous employee said her use of gender pronouns in her email signature played a part in her firing.

The Dallas Arboretum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and hosted over a million visitors in 2021.

Jeffcoat’s salary as an operations supervisor was $40,000 annually, less than ten percent of what the Arboretum’s CEO Mary Brinegar made in 2019. Before his promotion, in June 2021, Jeffcoat made $11.40 an hour as a gate attendant.

The city of Dallas owns the Arboretum’s 66 acres and contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to its operation. It sent a letter of warning after the January complaint, saying the city “takes these matters seriously.”

Dallas Parks and Recreation emailed a statement to KERA on Thursday about the new complaint, saying “contracted and management partner organizations are expected to adhere to the city’s non-discrimination policies and practices, as well as follow state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”

Shelly Skeen, a lawyer with Lambda, said her understanding is that the EEOC is “interviewing people who [worked] or work for the Arboretum” in relation to the January complaint, including her anonymous client.

Jeffcoat hopes his complaint leads to a change in how Arboretum is run.

“I want supervision to where they’re accountable of what goes on,” he said. “[So] it’s not swept under the rug.”

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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