DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld much of a 2019 jury verdict that found the state discriminated against a transgender prison employee. state by denying her use of the men’s restrooms and locker rooms, but the court dismissed part of the case centered on gender discrimination.
The ruling means Jesse Vroegh, a former nurse at the Mitchellville Women’s Prison, won her trial on discrimination grounds based on gender identity and the jury’s verdict in damages of $120,000 for emotional distress.
The decision in which the full court recognized discrimination based on gender identity for transgender workers under the state’s civil rights law is a significant LGBTQ victory.
American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa attorney Melissa Hasso said the lawsuit was the first related to transgender rights to be filed since lawmakers amended Iowa’s civil rights law in 2007. to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Vroegh, who sued in 2017, said victory was a long time coming.
“I’m so happy that my state’s Supreme Court recognized that transgender people like me should be treated the same as everyone else and that if a doctor says I should get medical treatment, I get the treatment” , did he declare. “It is important that all people are treated with dignity and respect.”
A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections said in a statement that a new agency director and prison guard have been in place since this incident occurred.
“The DOC is doing everything it can to create a safe and welcoming environment for all of its employees,” said the statement provided by spokesman Nick Crawford.
The court determined that the amended law added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected characteristics, allowing the jury to consider discrimination based on gender identity in Vroegh’s case. The court, however, concluded that the allegation of sex discrimination should not have been presented to the jury.
The High Court explained that it had previously separated sex from gender with sex meaning whether one is male or female and gender regarding behaviour, feelings and thoughts which are not always correlated to one’s condition physiological.
Vroegh asserted that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity. The court rejected this argument.
“Discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity does not equate to discrimination based on the individual’s male or female anatomical characteristics at the time of birth (the definition of ‘sex’). An employer could discriminate against transgender people without even knowing the gender of those harmed,” the court said,
In February 2019, a jury found that the corrections department discriminated against Vroegh and that the state executive further discriminated against him by offering medical benefits that would not cover her sex confirmation surgery.
While the court on Friday upheld that verdict, awarding damages and paying more than $348,000 in attorneys’ fees, it dismissed Vroegh’s attempt to pursue a lawsuit against the company’s insurer. State, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, for denial of coverage for recommended surgery. by doctors in Vroegh to treat gender dysphoria. Wellmark said his plan does not cover any gender confirmation surgery. This benefit was later covered for state employees from 2017.
The decision comes as transgender rights have become the center of legal and political battles in several states. Employment discrimination cases related to gender identity are ongoing in states such as Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas. Additionally, Iowa is among several states where Republican lawmakers have passed laws to limit the participation of transgender athletes in sports.
ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said the case is part of a significant legal trend in the United States that recognizes equal rights for transgender people.