Transgender applicant files complaint against Bend’s New Vision Wilderness

Alleges gender discrimination

By Claire Withycombe / The Bulletin

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating an employment discrimination complaint against a Bend wilderness therapy program.

Sorin Lorne Thomas, of Clyde Hill, Washington, has filed a complaint alleging gender discrimination in the hiring process against New Vision West Coast, Inc., the Bend office of Wisconsin-based outdoor therapy program New Vision Wilderness.

BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr confirmed Tuesday that the complaint was received and is being investigated.

Thomas, who identifies as transgender and androgynous, alleges that New Vision rescinded a job offer and subjected the prospective employee to different terms and conditions of the employment process as a result of Thomas’ gender, gender identity and/or disclosure of gender identity.

New Vision Wilderness, according to the complaint, provides therapy services to preteens, adolescents and young adults through wilderness excursions and long-term treatment.

New Vision declined to comment Tuesday, saying that president and co-founder Drew Hornbeck, who was the only employee who could speak to the complaint, was in Los Angeles for a board of directors meeting for the rest of the week.

Thomas received a formal job offer to work as a field therapist at New Vision in Bend on May 20, according to the complaint.

On May 23, Thomas spoke with Steve Sawyer, New Vision’s co-founder and clinical director. Thomas identified as transgender in the conversation. Sawyer allegedly expressed concerns that Thomas’ gender identity would “negatively impact (New Vision’s) customers” and asked Thomas to write a reflection letter on the topic.

The complaint alleges that New Vision did not ask other employees to carry out similar requests during the hiring process.

Thomas sent the reflection letter the next day and subsequently requested updates on employment details several times, according to the complaint. Thomas did not receive a response until June 3, when Sawyer replied that “we are still reviewing and interviewing current applicants.”

Thomas’ attorney, Lake Perriguey, said Tuesday that he and his client brought their concerns to New Vision before filing the BOLI complaint Sept. 3.

Perriguey said New Vision expressed concern that Thomas’ gender identity disclosure would violate the company’s therapeutic approach.

“You’re not supposed to talk about your past experiences as a way of assisting in the therapeutic model,” said Perriguey. He said gender identity is not a traumatic or past experience but a “present” expression of identity.

Since January 2008, Oregonians have been protected from workplace gender-identity discrimination under state law.

Burr said BOLI has one year to complete the investigation, but most bureau investigations typically take four to six months. If BOLI finds substantial evidence that New Vision’s actions were discriminatory, it will bring the parties together to determine whether they can reach a settlement.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, cwithycombe@bendbulletin.com

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