Gay man says Riverdale official called him ‘sissy’

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A gay Atlanta man who works for the City of Riverdale says the city manager hurled sexist and homophobic insults at him during a meeting and when he complained, city officials tried to push him out of his job. 

Corey Punzi, 40, says the incident is the first time he's faced anti-gay discrimination in the workplace since joining the city's cultural affairs department as a marketing and events specialist in January 2013. But since the confrontation with City Manager E. Scott Wood in early March, it's left him with severe anxiety and on unpaid leave from his job.

“He was chastising me initially for my usage of vocabulary. It escalated from there,” Punzi said Monday. “He told me that I was being pouty like a girl, then he said, 'Don't come in here acting like a sissy.' And I was like where was all of this coming from? It was very aggressive.”

Punzi and Wood were in a meeting with other city employees to discuss an upcoming event in the Clayton County city. The conversation continued between the two men, Punzi said, but when he objected to the alleged insults, he said Wood threatened his employment status.

“He told me that this won't go over well. I asked him if that's a threat,” Punzi said. 

Punzi said he later filed a complaint with the city's human resources department and told Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon. He said the mayor dismissed his concerns and told him, “Mr. Wood doesn’t look like the type of person who would say that.”

Wood could not be reached for comment on Monday. Wynn-Dixon said the complaint has been discussed by City Council in a recent executive session but that she could not comment on the matter. She referred questions to City Attorney L'Erin Barnes, who said the city launched an internal investigation that found no evidence to support Punzi's allegations.

“An internal investigation of that complaint returned no witnesses – there were more than the two of them in the meeting. There was no evidence of [Wood] having said that,” Barnes said.

The city's internal investigation is now closed and Punzi is on leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act, Barnes said. Punzi has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

“The city is committed to ensuring that all employees and people who come in contact with the city are treated fairly with no regard to race, age, sexual orientation and religion. They hold that value very true and won't tolerate it being violated – and it hasn't been,” Barnes said.

Punzi said the incident caused him to suffer from anxiety, which has kept him from returning to work. He said city officials tried to push him out of his job, then complained that his job performance was lacking.

“I've never been discriminated against like this in this capacity at work. They started treating me just differently and being extra aggressive and really intimidating. They would say I should just resign and leave if I'm not happy here,” Punzi said. 

The allegations of anti-gay mistreatment prompted him to launch Superfluous Sissy, a group to call attention to his allegations and cases of workplace discrimination. The group is calling for a boycott of the city and for Wood to be fired. It scheduled a press conference and rally for 7 p.m. on May 28 at Riverdale City Hall. The group also launched a fundraising campaign and Punzi started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $20,000 for Superfluous Sissy.

Riverdale is among nearly 60 jurisdictions across the state that includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination statement, according to Georgia Equality. But the city is not among eight in Georgia ranked in HRC's Municipal Equality Index, which scores municipalities on their LGBT equality efforts. 

In 2003, the city elected the first openly transgender official in the state when Michelle Bruce won a seat on the City Council. In 2007, she took first place in her re-election campaign but lost in a bitter run-off. Two political opponents charged her with fraud and accused her of misleading voters because she is transgender. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 2008 and said that her opponents failed to produce any evidence to support their allegations.

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