Transgender FAUPD detective files discrimination lawsuit against Board of Trustees

On Oct. 5, Jonathan Ponce, a transgender police officer with FAUPD and LGBTQ Liasion, filed a Title IX discrimination lawsuit after being passed for promotion.


Photo courtesy of FAU police’s Facebook

Savannah Peifer, Social Media Manager

Detective Jonathan Ponce with Florida Atlantic University’s Police Department, is suing the FAU Board of Trustees for what he believes to be gender discrimination.

Ponce is an 11-year veteran of the department and believes leaders did not promote him because he is transgender, instead promoting an officer he trained to detective sergeant. He also alleges the department leaders designated him as LGBTQ liaison for the same reason. 

The UP reached out to Ponce for comment but he did not wish to speak on the record. 


According to a complaint Ponce and his attorney filed on Oct. 5, he repeatedly informed Police Chief Sean Brammer of his interest in creating a detective sergeant position. He says Brammer ignored these notices, promoting an officer Ponce trained.

Brammer did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

According to the complaint, the police department did not advertise the position to other members nor was there an announcement – a departure from the norm, since staff announced all other changes or promotions via email. 

Ponce began transitioning in 2017. After Ponce informed the department of his transition, former Deputy Chief Torson Cowart informed Ponce he would be receiving the role of LGBTQ liaison.

The UP attempted to contact Cowart and could not find any mode of contact at the time of publication.

Greg Miraglia, a law enforcement workplace discrimination expert, said officers usually ask for such designations.

“What we found is that individuals will volunteer for the position, they’ll initiate it. The other common practice is for there to be a selection process,” said Miraglia.

According to the complaint, Ponce repeatedly asked for clarification on the position and direction in how to connect with the LGBTQ community on campus.

Ponce says he never received any guidance, only receiving correspondence when there were opportunities for appearance at events. Julie Callahan, founder of the Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs, said this can be detrimental to officers. 

“It puts more pressure on the transgender employees, especially when they’re first transitioning,” said Callahan. “It puts them in a bad position with the community and it puts them in a bad position with their peers and may put them in a bad position with their boss.”

In 2018, Ponce was a detective for a case resulting in the arrest of a student threatening to kill a professor. In 2019, the police department presented an award for discovering the identity of the student behind the account to another officer, when Ponce said he was the officer who completed the investigation.

Ponce and his attorney claim these actions violate Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at federally-funded institutions. 

Lisa Metcalf, a university spokesperson, declined comment for this story via email, citing pending litigation. 


April 2017: Ponce began his transition and requested a meeting with Brammer. Ponce had his wife present during the meeting for moral support. According to the complaint, Brammer then brought former Deputy Chief Torsan Cowart and Captain Larry Ervin into the meeting without asking Ponce for permission. Those in the meeting assured Ponce he had their support throughout his transition.

Ervin did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

The police department later converted a single-stall restroom into a gender-neutral room. 

Feb. 3, 2021: Ponce approached Brammer with interest in the creation of a detective sergeant position; he also submitted a memorandum to the chief.

March 3, 2022: Ponce re-submitted the memorandum about the creation and being placed in the position of detective sergeant. He then took a promotional exam and passed. Both times, Brammer did not respond to Ponce’s proposals.

June 15, 2022: Brammer sent an email with listings for six open positions. The next day, Ponce submitted a memorandum expressing interest in the special operations sergeant position and his interest in creating the detective sergeant position. Ponce never received a response.

Aug. 23, 2022: Administration informed Ponce the newest detective Melissa Malara was promoted to detective sergeant. From there, an email was sent congratulating Malara on her promotion to special operations sergeant. When Ponce asked for clarification, administration informed him that Malara’s promotion was changed from detective sergeant to special operations sergeant.

Malara did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

“This made PONCE feel even more discriminated against because at this point they had given Malara – the newest Detective and someone Ponce had recently trained – two (2) positions he had formally shown interest in when he was eligible for promotion,” according to the complaint. 

When Ponce filed a grievance, the department moved Malara to the night shift and promoted another officer to special operations sergeant.

Ponce is asking the judge to rule FAU’s actions as Title IX violations, award restitution based on loss of earnings, order FAU to promote Ponce to detective sergeant, award damages for pain and suffering, and order FAU to cover Ponce’s attorneys fees.

Savannah Peifer is the social media manager for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @ginger.savvy