Advocacy groups seek role in transgender bias suit

Six regional and national advocacy organizations have filed arguments in federal court on behalf of a transgender retired police sergeant who brought a discrimination suit against Howard County after she was rejected for a volunteer police mounted patrol.

The American Civil Liberties Union, its Maryland chapter and four organizations devoted to civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have asked the U.S. District Court for permission to file a "friend of the court" brief to support Tomi B. Finkle.

Finkle, 59, a retired sergeant with the U.S. Capitol Police, claims in a suit filed in the fall that she was denied a position in the volunteer unit because she is a transgender person.

"I really appreciate them taking an interest in my case and in my behalf," Finkle, of Charles County, said Tuesday, adding that neither she nor her lawyer sought the support. "I know over the years they've helped a lot of people."

In their motion filed last week, the groups including the Free State Legal Project, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center argue against the county's motion to dismiss the suit. They argue case law supports Finkle's claim of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the analogous Maryland law, and she does not have to prove the county knew her transgender status, as county lawyers have argued.

The county's lawyers have declined to comment on the case.

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, a national organization based in Northern California, said her group initiated the motion in part because of the potential significance of the case.

"There are not many cases involving transgender plaintiffs" that reach the courts, Turner said. "Each one has the potential to set important precedent, so we look at each one with great interest."

She said these briefs can help build a case by providing expertise that the parties to the case may not have. In her experience, she said it's rare for a judge to deny a motion to file such a supporting brief. No hearing date has been set in the case.

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