The October 19 suit, filed in California courts, claims that the bisexual actress and members of her family violated Finley's civil and labor rights, intentionally misgendered and deadnamed him, and assaulted him while yelling transphobic insults.
In his first interview since TMZ originally broke the news of the lawsuit, Finley tells Out that he was worried about coming forward but felt it was important to demonstrate that trans people shouldn't have to tolerate discriminatory behavior, regardless of how powerful the accused are.
"[The family] was never expecting me to take a stand for myself," Finley says. "I always hoped there would be some reconciliation, but when it goes physical, that's it. You have to take a stand for yourself ... not only for myself but for the community."
According to the lawsuit, Finley had known the Dawson family for two decades prior to the fall of 2017, when he was asked to move from New York City to Los Angeles to do construction work for them. Finley, who was transitioning at the time, grew up in New York and says the Dawson family had long known him as a lesbian.
After the initial invitation from Rosario's mother, Isabel, he was promised full-time work and a nearby, rent-free place to live, leased by Rosario's uncle. To further encourage him to move, Finley says Rosario gave him money to relocate.
But Finley says things started off awry. During the December holiday season that same year, he moved to the apartment, and Finley says he was told at the time that overflow from a drain pipe leaked raw sewage into the bathroom. (He claims it wasn't fixed for more than two months.)
Shortly after moving, Finley says he came out to the family and told them in no uncertain terms of his new name and pronouns: he/him/his. The reception, he says, wasn't so welcoming.
"With Isabel, it was like, 'Are you sure?'" Finley says. "I was trying to be positive about it. I felt it just wasn't celebrated at all. It felt flat. And it felt like a burden."
In the months after coming out, Finley claims his gender was repeatedly denigrated and disregarded by family members. While working on the family's property, he claims Rosario's father would scream in his face saying "a man wouldn't work like this" and "you only think you're a man."
But when he brought the issue to the actress' attention on several occasions, Finley says she didn't take action to stop it. Instead he says she responded by telling him to handle it himself. "You're a grown woman," he says she told him.
Finley says the experience made him wonder whether or not he should've come out at all, despite what he thought was a great job opportunity.
"It was a chance to be my true self," he says. "I truly thought I'd have a more supportive reception. I thought maybe it's too much and I felt shame around it ... Having to correct when I was misgendered, I would sometimes second guess [coming out]. Like, 'Maybe I shouldn't make waves.'"
Matters escalated from there, Finley claims, after the family's financial problems prompted a work agreement in February 2018. He says he was asked to take an hourly pay cut while performing additional responsibilities such as home and pool cleaning, and Isabel sent a text asking him to move out of the apartment by May. The work eventually dried up to the point of not being assigned at all.
Cornered in his situation, Finley claims the apartment wasn't inhabitable, and he wasn't financially able to rent other housing in Los Angeles or return to New York. The ensuing battle to have a decent place to live began taking a toll.
"For trans people, there's been all this stuff around housing," Finley explains, referring to the disproportionate rates of housing discrimination and homelesness among trans people. Reflecting upon this reality was emotionally wrenching for Finley, who took a moment to pause before adding: "Playing games with people's housing is pretty awful."
He claims the family resorted to various illegal tactics to get him to leave and that the text message wasn't sufficient or proper notice to terminate a lease. In one instance, at the end of April 2018, Isabel and Rosario showed up at the apartment to discuss ending the lease.
But soon after he asked that they do so another time, Isabel allegedly threatened to kill him and his cat and attacked Finley after he said he'd call the police.
"You're not so much of a man now!" Isabel allegedly yelled, while he says Rosario pinned him to the ground and took away his cell phone as her mother continued beating him. Finley says he still managed to call for help, after scrambling to get Rosario's phone and hiding in his room until police and paramedics arrived. After being taken to the hospital, he received more treatment for injuries and was granted a temporary restraining order against Isabel.
Representatives for Rosario Dawson have not responded to Out's repeated requests for comment about the allegations.
Finley's battle allegedly continued with the Dawson family for nearly five months, during which time he claims they shut his gas off and made an unsuccessful court attempt to get him out of the apartment. Finley finally moved out that September.
"It was a really hard decision because I'd known them for so long. They were my only support out here," Finley says of the lawsuit, noting that he's afraid of finding future work because of it. "I don't really know anybody out here in California and came out on Isabel's word, having left my support system back in NYC to relocate here."
"Now more than ever, it's like a David versus Goliath thing," he added.
Finley, who goes by Dee for short, is suing for unspecified financial damages, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional injuries he endured. He tellsOut that should he be awarded any money as a result of the lawsuit, he intends to make a contribution toward organizations that fight violence against trans people.
Finley's lawyers tellOut that the repeated, intentional misgendering he allegedly experienced speaks to the need for broader awareness on trans inclusion.
"Dee is living an experience that many trans and gender nonconforming people [share] in the U.S. today," said Tasha Hill, who represents Finley along with David Ratner. "So many times, people in the LGB community don't see that and I think it's important that they do."