Employment Law Daily Transgender employee at Iowa DOC wins $120K on discrimination claims
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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Transgender employee at Iowa DOC wins $120K on discrimination claims

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

An Iowa jury sided with a transgender male nurse on claims that his employer discriminated against him by denying access to the male locker and restroom, and insurance coverage for a medically necessary surgery.

The American Civil Liberties Union scored a victory on February 13 when a Polk County, Iowa, jury awarded a transgender male nurse $120,000 on his discrimination claims that his employer, the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC), discriminated against him because he is transgender.

The nurse was denied use of the men’s restrooms and locker room at work, as well as insurance coverage for medically necessary surgery, according to an ACLU release.

Transition at work. The plaintiff had been a staff nurse at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) for the past seven years. After beginning medical treatment for gender dysphoria and consistently using male facilities in public places, he approached his supervisors to let them know that he is male and would transition to presenting as male and begin using male facilities at work, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff’s supervisors said that rather than using the men’s locker rooms and restrooms, he would be required to use a unisex private restroom to dress and store his belongings, isolating him from all of his coworkers. Notably, the unisex restroom lacks a shower, so unlike his coworkers, the plaintiff had no option for showering at work.

Insurance coverage. The complaint also alleged that Wellmark Blue Cross, the employer-sponsored medical insurance provider, had denied him health care coverage for medically necessary surgery because he is transgender, even though it provides coverage for similar procedures for non-transgender employees.

Claims alleged. The plaintiff raised state law sex and gender identity discrimination claims, and state constitutional equal protection claims based on sex and transgender status.

“Transgender Iowans deserve the same dignity, respect, and access to health care and gender-appropriate restroom and locker room facilities as any other person,” said John Knight, an attorney with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, and one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiff. “For many years, the law in Iowa has said that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, and it has also barred gender identity discrimination since 2007.”

“The state should have been a model for other employers in its treatment of transgender workers. Instead, it blatantly discriminated against [the plaintiff],” Knight continued. “The jury in this case obviously saw that what the state did was wrong and should never happen again.”

The lawsuit, Vroegh v. Iowa Department of Corrections, was filed in the Iowa District Court, Polk County; the case is No. LACL138797.

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