October 3, 2019 / 8:07 PM / 9 months ago

Transgender sheriff's deputy sues Ga. county over health insurance exclusion

(Reuters) - A transgender deputy sheriff has filed a lawsuit accusing a Georgia county of sex and disability discrimination for refusing to cover the costs of medical procedures she required to transition from male to female.

Transgender rights activist waves a transgender flag as they protest the killings of transgender women this year, at a rally in Washington Square Park in New York, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Demetrius Freeman

Plaintiff Anna Lange in a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Macon, Georgia said the Houston County board of commissioners’ refusal to include the procedures in her health insurance policy also violated her equal protection rights, because the county’s insurance covers medically necessary treatment for other employees.

The chairman of the board, Tommy Stalnaker, and the county’s director of personnel, Kenneth Carter, who are named as defendants, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lange is represented by Cooper Barton & Cooper, the nonprofit Transgender Legal Defense Education Fund (TLDEF), and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Noah Lewis, a lawyer with TLDEF, said in a statement that private-sector employers’ generally cover gender reassignment procedures, or remove insurance exclusions when asked. But Houston County and many other public employers have not followed suit, he said.

The lawsuit comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Oct. 8 over whether discrimination against transgender workers is a form of unlawful sex bias under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court is reviewing a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that said a funeral director could proceed with sex bias claims over her firing after she told her boss she planned to transition from male to female.

But the funeral home that fired her, backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, has argued that Congress did not intend for Title VII’s protections to extend to transgender workers when it adopted the law.

Lange, who has worked for Houston County since 2006, said in her lawsuit that the county’s employee health insurance plan specifically excludes coverage for “drugs for sex change surgery” and “services and supplies for a sex change.” Lange said she spent $7,000 out of her own pocket on chest surgery last year, around the time she began telling coworkers that she planned to transition.

The county board of commissioners in April rejected her request to get rid of the exclusion, according to the complaint.

She said the coverage exclusion amounts to sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. She also accused Houston County of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against her because of her gender dysphoria and failing to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Last year, a federal judge in Pennsylvania became the first to rule that the exclusion of gender reassignment from insurance coverage violates the ADA.

Federal courts have been divided over whether insurance policies that exclude coverage for gender reassignment violate Title VII. Judges in Wisconsin and Minnesota last year said the law does apply to insurance coverage exclusions, but a federal magistrate in Arizona in June recommended the dismissal of Title VII claims by a transgender University of Arizona professor who was denied insurance coverage.

The case is Lange v. Houston County, Georgia, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, No. 5:19-CV-00392.

For Lange: Kenneth Barton of Cooper Barton & Cooper, Wesley Powell of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Noah Lewis of TLDEF

For the county: Not available

The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.

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