A federal judge has allowed a Georgia sheriff’s deputy’s lawsuit challenging an insurance exclusion in her health care plan to move forward.
Sgt. Anna Lange, a deputy for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office who has worked for the department for 14 years, was denied coverage for medically necessary transition-related care under her employee health care plan, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which explicitly excludes coverage for gender confirmation surgery.
As a result of the exclusion, Lange, who came out as transgender in 2017, has been forced to pay out of pocket for some treatments, and forego others, because of their cost, even though her doctors agree that such treatments are medically necessary to treat her gender dysphoria.
She repeatedly petitioned her employer, the county, to remove the exclusion, but her requests were denied.
Lange filed suit last year, alleging that the county’s insurance exclusion discriminates against her — and other transgender individuals — on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her lawyer also argue the exclusion denies her equal protection under the law, and in violation of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Houston County officials sought to dismiss the lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, rejected that request. In a 37-page opinion, Treadwell found that Houston County did not provide any legal rationale for the exclusion in its insurance policy, and kept it in place “despite Anthem’s warning that their exclusion of coverage was ‘unlawful.'”
Treadwell also found that there is cause to believe that Lange is likely to succeed in proving that Houston County and Sheriff Cullen Talton acted unconstitutionally when it refuses to amend its insurance policy.
Lange’s lawsuit is the second such suit brought in the South in which a federal judge has dismissed a motion from a public-sector employer to drop a lawsuit brought by a transgender employee who claims their employer-based insurance denied them medically necessary care. A date for trial has not been set yet.
Lange and her lawyers, with Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, celebrated the ruling.
“I’ve dedicated more than twenty years of my career to serving my community and I have never asked for or wanted special treatment for being my authentic self,” Lange said in a statement. “Since day one, this lawsuit has simply been about challenging the County’s illegal exclusion that prevents me from getting the medically-necessary care that I need. Today’s decision means that transgender Southerners like myself are one step closer to receiving the equal and fair health care access that everyone is guaranteed under the law.”
“We commend the Court’s decision to deny the motion so we can show a jury how Houston County officials and Sheriff Talton illegally and unconstitutionally denied health care coverage to Sgt. Lange,” David Brown, the legal director of TLDEF. “The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock makes it abundantly clear that discrimination against transgender people is illegal. In moving toward trial, Sgt. Lange’s lawsuit aims to make it explicit that transgender people cannot be denied access to medically-necessary care.”
“As a result of Judge Treadwell’s decision, Sgt. Lange will have the opportunity to prove that the exclusion of medically necessary care for the treatment of gender dysphoria under Houston County’s health plan is unlawful and violates her constitutional and statutory rights under Title VII and the ADA,” Wes Powell, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, said in a statement. “We look forward to vigorously pursuing her claims and putting an end to this blatant discrimination against a dedicated law enforcement officer.”
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