HRC Protester Settles Case
A woman who sued after being ejected from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2008 gala dinner in San Francisco settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Catherine Cusic, 67, told the Bay Area Reporter that she had received a "big six figures" settlement in return for dismissing the lawsuit against host hotel the Westin St. Francis and a local security firm hired for the event. She left last week with her grandson for a two-week vacation to Australia.
"I don’t think it was worth it but I am glad the truth came out. They still shouldn’t have yanked my shoulder out of its socket," Cusic, an out lesbian and former leader of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, said in a brief telephone interview last week.
HRC spokesman Paul Guequierre stressed that the national LGBT rights group was not a party to the suit.
"Our insurance company made the decision to make a payment to Ms. Cusic on behalf of the hotel pursuant to an indemnity agreement. We consider the matter behind us," Guequierre wrote in an emailed response.
According to San Francisco Superior Court records, Cusic filed her lawsuit July 7, 2010 seeking unspecified monetary damages against the Westin’s parent company, Westin Hotel Management, and Surveillance, Protection and Investigations Group Inc., based in Rancho Cucamonga.
In it Cusic claims that the hired security guards "physically and without consent assaulted and battered [Cusic] in an effort to remove her from the ballroom, then dragged her down a stairwell toward a fire exit and threw her on to Post Street, all of which caused [her] physical and emotional harm."
According to a statement emailed to the B.A.R. this month, Cusic required shoulder surgery due to the injuries she sustained. She stated that her goal in disrupting former HRC President Joe Solmonese during his speech at the fundraising dinner four years ago was to distribute leaflets about transgender exclusion.
At the time HRC was embroiled in a controversy over its decision to support federal legislation in 2007 that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity. Congressional leaders, including gay Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank, insisted the House would not pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it covered transgender employees.
Due to HRC’s embrace of the strategy, transgender activists and their allies boycotted HRC’s galas across the country in 2008.
Having bought a discounted ticket to the San Francisco dinner, Cusic attempted to walk toward the stage while Solmonese was talking. Security, however, quickly approached her and dragged Cusic out of the room.
Photos she circulated the following day showed bruises on her arms, and the incident received coverage on LGBT news sites with articles detailing how "security goons" roughed up Cusic.
HRC issued its own statement shortly after the dinner in which it defended how security handled Cusic and claimed her description of events was contradicted by guests at the dinner.
"As with every dinner, it is our policy that if a person is being disruptive they’ll be escorted from the room," read the statement. "[Cusic] was asked to stop and leave the ballroom by security personnel. After she refused to follow instruction, she was escorted from the room and continued yelling all the way to the hotel exit."
In a deposition filed in the lawsuit, one of the security guards discounted claims that Cusic was shouting and running toward the stage. Instead, he testified that Cusic was walking silently when he stopped her.
Court records show that the case was dismissed in December. According to her emailed statement last week, Cusic is "relieved to be compensated for the severe injuries suffered as a result of brute-force that was never necessary, but it is still disgusting to think that anyone would attempt to justify causing injuries in response to an attempt to distribute leaflets disagreeing with their point of view."