Chief U.S. District Judge Marc T. Treadwell ruled recently that a Houston County, Georgia Police Department’s exclusion of a worker’s insurance coverage request for gender reassignment surgery was “facially discriminatory,” and that her equal protection claim “will proceed to trial.”
“I have devoted more than a decade of my life to a job that I love with the backing of supervisors and colleagues who truly respect my work,” said Houston County Deputy Sheriff, Sgt. Anna Lange (pictured above). “Despite my dedicated years of service, the County has singled out and excluded the medically necessary care that I need simply because I’m transgender. I just want to be treated fairly and earn the same benefits as my co-workers who serve on the force.”
Lange brought legal action against defendants Sheriff Cullen Talton and Houston County in Anna Lange v. Houston County, Georgia, et al., whose ruling was filed on June 2nd by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
“Excluding transgender-related health care from employee health plans violates Georgia and federal law,” Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) Senior Staff Attorney, Noah Lewis said. “When we inform private employers that it is unlawful to block transition-related care, most voluntarily remove the exclusion. The Houston County Board of Commissioners had the opportunity to treat all of its employees equally and vote to end this unfair treatment of county employees and their families. They failed to do so. Sergeant Lange had no other choice than to bring this federal case.”
According to the 2020 Supreme Court case, Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., Georgia, it is against the law for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to h[er] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Although both the plaintiff and the defendants filed for a summary judgement from Judge Treadwell as Lange’s Equal Protection Clause motion, the court was unable to determine if Houston County’s exclusion of Lange’s insurance claim was discriminatory in nature.
“The Court cannot say as a matter of law whether, under the Equal Protection Clause, the adoption and maintenance of the Exclusion was motivated by discriminatory intent. The parties’ motions for summary judgment on equal protection grounds are DENIED,” the Middle District of Georgia said in its ruling.
The court made clear the distinction between the two aforementioned types of discrimination in its ruling.
“If an adverse employment action is facially discriminatory, the employer’s intent is immaterial … . The absence of a malevolent motive does not convert a facially discriminatory policy into a neutral policy with a discriminatory effect. Here, it is undisputed that the Exclusion is facially discriminatory,” wrote Judge Treadwell.
The defendants’ motions for summary judgment on Lange’s Americans with Disabilities (ADA) claim were granted, as Lange could not establish that her gender dysphoria is due to a physical impairment. The court ruled that Lange’s equal protection claim will proceed to trial, however.
According to the Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, the approximate cost of a transition from male to female costs $140,450 and the cost for a gender reassignment procedure from female to male costs $124,400. These estimated costs, the Center notes, include the price of anesthesia and time spent in the hospital, which leads to an increased price estimate compared to other figures.
Additionally, public records obtained by Lange’s lawyers show that Houston County has spent nearly $700,000 on their legal defense in the case.
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Addison Basurto is a reporter at The Georgia Star and The Star News Network. Follow Addy on Twitter and GETTR. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Anna Lange” by Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Background Photo “Courtroom” by Clyde Robinson. CC BY 2.0.