Partner Fights for Dating Website Owner to “Make it Right”
By DMITRY RASHNITSOV
(Photo: Manhunt co-owner Jonathan Crutchley, courtesy of Flickr.com)
In September 2008, A.J. Spellman was so excited to begin working at Online Buddies, LLC, the parent company for Manhunt.com, one of the most popular gay dating and hookup websites all over the United States. Spellman was hired as a Customer Service Representative, which would allow him to help take care of his disabled fiancée, Bri Crofton.
In his interview, during which he appeared female, Spellman mentioned his intention to transition from female to male and all the people he interviewed with said they had no problem with the transition and when the time came he would need to speak to HR and get everything squared away.
“A.J. received a generally warm welcome, though he was sometimes teased on the call center floor for being the only female-bodied CSR. He was a bit thrown off by repeated references by veteran coworkers to ‘Gestapo-like’ treatment at the hands of upper management, and brought these concerns home early on, but grew to believe that certain coworkers were merely being dramatic,” said Crofton who has become the ad-hoc voice for Spellman.
Crofton said that after Spellman began hormone therapy to start the transition, that’s when the real problems began.
“His voice and appearance changed drastically and extremely rapidly,” Lofton said. “At the same time, little things started happening, like entire lunches starting to go missing, rather than just an occasional soda; loud comments were made regarding voice cracks and facial hair. A.J. took the latter in stride as possibly being average, callous male social interactions.”
While Spellman appealed for help about the harassment with his direct supervisors, upper management and human resource personal, Crofton said that nobody in the company would help Spellman out, and instead began writing poor work reviews for him, including calling him “paranoid”.
After months of harassment with no help from co-workers or management, Spellman was fired for emailing a photo of a cartoon strip to Crofton. According to Online Buddies, LLC policy, employees may not email any photos to anyone outside of the company. This policy is there because they do not want employees violating the privacy of Manhunt members by emailing private photos.
Crofton contends that the photo was a cartoon that could be found at other places on the internet and was not a private members photo.
“It was a photo of a large man holding his breasts together and thrusting his tongue between them,” Crofton said.
Spellman believed he was wrongfully terminated and filed for unemployment benefits, however Manhunt and Online Buddies, LLC denied the request and the case went in front of the Division of Unemployment Assistance.
According to Crofton, Spellman went through three appeals, but his unemployment benefits were denied each time.
While Spellman continues to look for a new job, sending out dozens of resumes and applications a day, Crofton is trying to use the power of the internet to garner support for her fiancée. Two months ago she wrote a letter to Manhunt owner Jonathan Crutchley, asking for his help with the situation and to make it right. She still has not heard anything back from him and is currently planning the next steps, possibly even taking Manhunt to court for employment discrimination.
“I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Crutchley,” Crofton wrote in her letter. “On your personal website, you claim to care about social responsibility. I will assume that, when you founded Manhunt.net and Online Buddies, you intended to create a professional, diverse and pleasant workplace. I will even go so far as to presume that you had no idea that these events had occurred, or that AJ has continuously been denied unemployment benefits based on your employees’ year-long adamancy regarding their claim that AJ willfully ignored customer confidentiality policies.”
Crofton is also asking the worldwide GLBT community for their help. For more information about the fight, visit: www.brinaj.com. Crutchley and his partner Larry Basile founded Manhunt in 2001.
Crutchley was a former realtor and Basile owned a gay bar and hotel. Neither has publicly commented about Spellman nor Crofton’s website and mobilization of the GLBT community.
In 2008, Crutchley caused controvery when it was found out that he had donated $2,300 to the presidential campaign of John McCain, the same McCain who in the most recent congress voted against the Mathew Shepard Act and repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“The gay community should know that Senator McCain is a very tolerant and gay-friendly man in private,” Crutchley said in 2008.
Manhunt itself is involved in a new controversy, recently making all profiles available to be searched by anyone, including people who do not have accounts.