A gay man who says he left North Carolina to take a new job in Southern California in 2019 while hoping to find greater acceptance of his sexual orientation is suing his former employer, alleging he experienced worse attitudes there than he ever did in his home state.
William Mallette’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against DPR Construction Inc. alleges wrongful discharge, hostile work environment harassment, discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Mallette is seeking unspecified damages in the suit brought Tuesday.
A DPR Construction representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The company is based in Redwood City, but Mallette lived and worked in Los Angeles County, the suit states.
In May 2019, Mallette made what for him was a difficult decision to move from Raleigh to Los Angeles, according to his court papers. Born and raised in the South, he had seen “all the ills of bigotry and racism firsthand and, as a result, always kept his sexual orientation a secret, revealing it only on a need-to-know basis, especially to his employers,” his suit says.
When the chance to work in Southern California for DPR arose, he decided to take a chance and move, believing that in one of the most liberal states in the U.S. he would be able to be open about his sexual orientation “without any consequence or fear of reprisal,” according to his court papers.
But Mallette says he soon found out that was not the case. At DPR, he alleges he endured “the most disturbing and disgusting harassment and discrimination he had ever experienced and then found himself out of a job because he purportedly did not fit DPR’s culture.”
Mallette says he began working for DPR Construction as a safety professional in June 2019 at an annual salary of $85,000. He alleges he performed well, exceeded company expectations and was praised for his work.
But beneath all the positive feedback, Mallette “quietly suffered through derogatory locker-room talk regarding his sexual orientation” beginning last July, the suit alleges. His direct supervisor called Mallette a homophobic slur in front of another employee who “joined in on the harassing banter,” with both telling the plaintiff, “You’re obviously gay. There’s no need for you to hide it,” according to the suit.
Mallette denied he was gay, hoping the insults would stop, according to his court papers. The supervisor and the other worker responded with skepticism, saying, “We know you’re gay because you told us you bought two lamps. If you had only bought one lamp, we’d know you weren’t gay,” the suit alleges.
Mallette’s work environment deteriorated further after his supervisor impeded the plaintiff’s ability to do his job by refusing to help or grant him assistance when work issues arose, the suit alleges. Mallette persevered and did not let his boss’s alleged retaliation discourage him, according to his court papers.
On Dec. 13, a DPR Construction human resources representative met with Mallette and told him he was being fired because he “did not fit DPR’s culture,” the suit alleges.
Mallette alleges he asked for an explanation, but was not given one. When he then inquired if he was losing his job because of his sexual orientation, his boss “immediately apologized,” according to the suit.
Three days later, DPR Construction sent Mallette a letter stating the company decided to fire him “after receiving a complaint of unprofessional behavior towards a client, which includes sending an inappropriate text message to a client representative,” the suit says.
The suit alleges the grounds for firing him cited by the company were pretextual and that ” to suggest that within a few weeks, plaintiff went from being a star performer at the company to someone now unable to do work consistent with DPR’s behavior-based safety program, is absurd.”
Mallette never used “any unprofessional or inappropriate language,” his suit states.