Story at a glance
- The Iowa Supreme Court has found that the state discriminated against a former transgender employee based on the employee’s gender identity.
- Jesse Vroegh, a trans man and former nurse employed by the Iowa Department of Corrections, filed a lawsuit against his employer in 2017, alleging he was denied certain healthcare benefits and access to men’s restrooms and locker rooms.
- Vroegh in 2019 was awarded $120,000 to compensate for emotional distress damages based on the state’s discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. On Friday, it was found that Vroegh had been the victim of only gender discrimination, not sex discrimination.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday found the state had discriminated against a former employee because of their gender identity, upholding an earlier verdict and a $120,000 jury award.
“This day has been a long time coming,” Jesse Vroegh, a transgender man and former nurse at the Iowa Department of Corrections, said in a statement. “I am so happy that my state supreme court has recognized that transgender people like me should be treated just the same as everyone else when it comes to medical care—that if a doctor says I should receive medical treatment, I get the treatment.”
Vroegh filed a lawsuit against the department in 2017, alleging he was denied healthcare coverage for gender-affirming surgery even though the same type of procedure was available to cisgender workers through the state’s employer-provided healthcare insurance.
Vroegh, who was employed by the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women from 2009 to 2016, said he was denied access to men’s locker rooms and restrooms after transitioning in 2014. Instead, Vroegh was told by departments heads to use either the women’s bathroom or a single -stall unisex restroom in another building.
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Supervisors told Vroegh the decision had been made because trans issues were “too controversial,” according to the lawsuit.
Since 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act has prohibited employers from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning transgender employees are entitled to adequate healthcare and use of gender-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity.
Vroegh in 2019 was awarded $120,000 by a jury for emotional distress damages based on the state’s discrimination on the basis of “sex and/ or gender identity.” Last year, the state argued on appeal that Vroegh could only bring claims of gender discrimination before the jury, not sex discrimination.
On Friday, Iowa Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott, along with five other justices, wrote in an opinion that the lower court in 2019 should have dismissed Vroegh’s sex discrimination claim because discrimination based on gender identity does not automatically amount to discrimination based on sex.
Still, the jury’s finding that Vroegh had been the victim of gender discrimination was affirmed, as was the full amount of damages it awarded.
“In light of the evidence presented, the jury’s question during deliberations, the court’s response to the question, and the jury’s verdicts, we’re left with the conclusion that the jury based its award on the emotional distress that Vroegh suffered from gender identity discrimination , not sex discrimination,” McDermott wrote Friday.
Published on Apr. 05, 2022