Benford, a gay black man who served as the first openly gay elected officer in the state of North Carolina, has been the focus of a civil rights investigation into his conduct, as well as allegations of discrimination.
This week, Benford resigned from his seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, citing his pending sexual orientation.
The Republican-controlled legislature approved his resignation on Friday, and Benford filed suit in federal court, claiming that he is entitled to the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that he has been subjected to discriminatory harassment.
The suit argues that his employment was terminated due to his sexual orientation, that he was denied promotions because of his sexual identity, and that his discrimination has been “repeatedly, and unlawfully, based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, gender identity, marital status, age, familial status, or other factors.”
The suit also claims that “the State of North Dakota failed to respond adequately to the plaintiff’s complaints” and that “it is well established that the state and local governments of North Dakotas discriminatory policies and actions discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.”
In response to the lawsuit, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said on Thursday that he believed “that [Benford] was entitled to due process.”
According to the Daily Beast, Benfords attorney, Andrew N. Benford Jr., said in a statement that he “firmly disagrees with the governor’s decision” and called on the state’s attorney general to investigate whether the governor “violated the state constitution and the federal Equal Protection Clause.”
“While the lawsuit has not yet been settled, the governor should take the unprecedented step of publicly disclosing the existence of the lawsuit to the public and also to the people of North Dakotas, including his cabinet, to enable the public to make informed decisions about whether the allegations are accurate,” the statement read.
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice will be reviewing the case and will determine whether it meets the definition of discrimination that the federal government considers a “sex-based animus” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment.
Benfows lawsuit also claims discrimination in North Dakota’s health care, educational, and housing systems.
A statement from the governor and the legislature says that “this suit was filed to address the actions of the North Dakota State Government by Mr. Benfield in the workplace, at the public accommodations, and in the housing and educational systems.”
The statement said the state would “review and defend this matter vigorously.”
This article has been updated to include information on Benfords employment and the lawsuit.