A gay man is suing the Philadelphia Parking Authority claiming he was fired and labelled a “sexual predator” when his employers learned of his sexuality.
Darryl Watson began working as a data officer for the PPA, a well known Republican stronghold, on 24 February, 2020. But after only four days in the job things started to unravel, he claims.
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court, Watson was summoned to a meeting on 28 February with deputy executive directors Clarena Tolson and Richard Dickson.
Before this point he hadn’t disclosed his sexuality to his superiors, but, he says, it quickly became clear they knew he was gay when Tolson pulled up his Facebook account.
He claims Tolson raised issue with his LGBT-oriented social media posts and pointed to one in particular. It was a photo of an attractive man, under which Watson had commented: “This guy has a nice butt. I hope his girlfriend knows how lucky she is.”
The executives allegedly warned Watson that the agency was a “conservative place” and that “[your] homosexuality was an issue” for top-ranking PPA official Scott Petri, a former Republican state representative.
Watson says he was told that other men “would not feel comfortable” working with him as they’d be wondering if he was “checking them out”, and that “certain compromises had to be made” because some employees weren’t OK with his being gay.
He claims Tolson then took it further by suggesting that Watson seemed like a “sexual predator” for some of his posts. Watson is himself a sexual assault survivor.
“[Watson’s] social media post was made on his personal account,” the lawsuit states. “Further, the post was not: created or posted during work hours, created or posted on a company device, and was not created or directed toward an employee of defendant PPA.”
Nevertheless, Watson was allegedly was told he would have to complete mandatory training on ethics, sexual harassment and social media use.
Days later on 3 March, HR representatives approached him to discuss 20 posts he’d made on Facebook and Twitter, all prior to his hiring by the PPA.
Watson was terminated the same day, allegedly due to violating PPA’s social media policy. He’d worked for the company less than a week.
His lawsuit intends to prove he was fired due to the fact that he is a gay man who was “not willing to hide his sexuality and has always behaved as his earnest, open and authentic self”. Watson, who is Black, will also argue that he was treated differently on the basis of race.
The PPA “vehemently denies” that Watson was ever subjected to any form of discrimination, harassment or retaliation due to his sexuality or any other reason.
“The PPA maintains an inclusive workforce, has LGBTQ+ employees at very level, and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” a spokesperson told Philly Mag in a written statement.