A medical technician who works at Cook County Jail said his supervisor "outed" him as transgender in a private meeting with three colleagues.
Now, Logan Grimes says he's afraid to go back to work, citing what he sees as a transphobic and homophobic work environment. For the past six years, Grimes has administered medication to inmates across the jail and at Cermak, the jail's in-house medical center.
"With a job like that," Grimes said, "you expect to take a certain amount of risk just by the environment that you work in. What you don't expect is that risk to be increased by someone disclosing your status."
In letters submitted to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System ( CCHHS ) Equal Employment Opportunity Division, three employees said their supervisor outed Grimes as transgender during a conversation in the boss's office on Sept. 28, 2018.
Windy City Times is not naming the supervisor because charges have not been filed.
All three employees, who are not being named to protect their privacy, said they were in the supervisor's office that day to discuss a possible new hire. It soon came up that the potential hire could be gay. That's when the supervisor said, "kind of like Logan," one employee wrote.
Each letter describes a brief conversation that followed. According to one employee, the supervisor said, "Well, you all know about Logan." At that point, one of the employees responded, "They don't know. Leave it alone," according to the letters. The supervisor then allegedly said, "Logan is transgender."
After an investigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Division ruled in a letter dated Nov. 8, 2018, that Grimes was not discriminated against "based on his gender-related identity." The division did conclude, however, that "there was a violation of the CCHHS personnel rules."
The letter did not provide any additional details or explanation. Grimes said a later meeting with division staff was abruptly cut short when Grimes insisted on having his attorney present. Grimes said he was told the supervisor was disciplined; no details were available.
In an emailed statement, a CCHHS spokeswoman said, "If any employee presents a credible threat to their safety, CCH takes every possible precaution to provide a safe work environment. Like other employers, it is our practice not to discuss the specifics of any case, including discipline."
"It just shocks me that outing someone does not constitute … harassment at all," Grimes' attorney, Daniel Hernandez, said. "The harassment policy points out that harassing someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited. It just shocks me that a regulatory body couldn't come to a conclusion that some kind of violation had happened."
Grimes also filed complaints with his union and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. He said the state has asked to interview him on Jan. 16, 2019.
In a statement, John Tillar, the Cook County director for SEIU Local 73, said: "Logan has been working closely with his union to bring this case of discrimination through the grievance process, as prescribed by the contract bargaining agreement with the employer. The case is currently under investigation and we are not at liberty to disclose details."
Tillar added, "The union stands against forces of discrimination and hate" and that "Logan, like any other worker, deserves to work in a safe environment."
'It's really unsafe for me'
Grimes said he first learned about the alleged "outing" on Oct. 1, 2018. He called off work on Oct. 2 and has not returned since. Grimes said he first suspected something was amiss when a colleague referred to him as "girl" and another told him that people can get hurt when they lie about "who they really are."
When he first began working at the jail in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood six years ago, Grimes made a conscious decision not to disclose his gender identity.
"The transgender population has always been the brunt of jokes," Grimes said. "As far as the medical staff goes there, they tend to dismiss [the transgender inmates'] needs or even take them seriously. So I know the environment in which I work."
Grimes fears if he returns to work, he'll be attacked.
"It's really unsafe for me to return there because of the culture in the jail and the phobia of the jail," Grimes said. "That's coming not just from the inmatesit's coming from the staff. … I don't know how many people know, and I can't trust that."
In a statement, Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the Cook County Sheriff's Office, said, "While this individual is not an employee of the sheriff's office, we strive to ensure that everyone who visits the jail is safe and secure. The sheriff's office has no information to suggest the jail environment is transphobic or otherwise unsafe for anyone, regardless of sexual identity. However, if anyone feels this is not the case, we encourage them to report this to our office for investigation."
When asked about Grimes' safety concerns, a CCHHS spokeswoman said in a statement, "Cook County Health ( CCH ) cannot speak to what an individual may or may not believe. … Cook County Health is committed to providing a safe workplace free from discrimination and harassment that is inclusive and welcoming of all individuals."
Grimes requested a leave of absence pending the resolution of his case; he was denied. He has exhausted his vacation and sick time, he said, and is no longer being paid. The married father of two girls, ages 6 and 12, was hoping to work for the county for the rest of his career and be eligible for a pension.
The HR process is ongoing.
In the early 2000s, Grimes was among the first transgender men in Chicago to tell his story in public. When he worked at the Lesbian Community Cancer ( now Care ) Project, he and his now-wife spoke at length with Identity magazine, a sister publication of Windy City Times. The couple's story ran on the cover.
But in 2013, Grimes walked back on the publicity when he pursued his current job with CCHHS. Fearing he wouldn't be safe working at the jail as an "out" transgender man, Grimes asked the magazine to change his name in the online version of the article so that he could maintain his privacy. He had also been interviewed for the ChicagoGayhistory.org website, and once he took the county job, asked that it be removed.
Now, Grimes said he is speaking publicly once more in the hopes of creating visibility around transgender employment issues in Cook County.
"I don't have any choice because it's such a big issue," Grimes said. "I know in my heart and my spirit, I just can't let it go."