Transgender state employee wins lawsuit over sexual reassignment surgery costs

(Stock photo)

A Juneau woman who sued the state of Alaska for sex discrimination won her case on Friday.

Jennifer Fletcher is a state legislative librarian. She’s also transgender. And she paid thousands in out-of-pocket costs for surgical treatment, because the state’s health insurance won’t cover sexual reassignment surgery for transgender employees.

Fletcher and her lawyers at Lambda Legal said that this violates Title VII — the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination. They argued that the surgeries she wanted to get would have been covered if she weren’t transgender — and that’s discrimination based on her sex.

They argued that a federal ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender nonconformity, gender identity, transgender status and gender transition.

The state argued that its denial of coverage for Fletcher’s surgery wasn’t discriminatory because it was not motivated by her sex. It’s a blanket policy that applies equally to men and women.

But U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland agreed with Fletcher. However, the decision could be appealed to a higher court.

Fletcher wrote in a message Friday that she hopes this decision will keep other people “like me from having to face these same struggles, from being harmed by being singled out for discriminatory treatment. I hope it will make their lives easier.”

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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