By Joe Kelly/Courthouse News
MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A Wisconsin jury awarded two transgender state employees $780,000 in damages late Wednesday after they were denied medical coverage under the state health insurance plan for transition surgeries.
A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin says that while courts are increasingly finding in favor of government-issued health insurance covering treatments for transgender individuals, this is one of the first times a jury has awarded damages for the denial of coverage.
The case has been in Wisconsin courts for a year and a half.
The two state employees, Alina Boyden, a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Shannon Andrews, who works as a cancer researcher at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, first filed suit against the state and its insurers in early 2017 over a denial of coverage for their gender confirmation procedures.
The denial was based on a benefits exclusion adopted by the Wisconsin Group Insurance Board that rules out coverage for procedures related to “surgery and sex hormones associated with gender reassignment.”
However, in a ruling issued last month, U.S. District Court Judge William Conley ordered the state and its insurers to cover Boyden and Andrews’ transition procedures, finding that the exclusion violated Title VII, the Affordable Care Act and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Conley wrote in his 47-page opinion that the “exclusion on its face treats transgender individuals differently on the basis of sex.”
Boyden and Andrews were represented by the ACLU of Wisconsin in addition to volunteer attorneys from the law firm Hawks Quindel.
“Depriving transgender people of access to transition-related care is discrimination and we are pleased the jury awarded Shannon and Alina the money they need to cover their care and for the harm they suffered,” Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement.
In a statement issued by the ACLU, Boyden thanked the judge and jury in the case for awarding a fair verdict.
“It was wonderful to see a process where eight ordinary Wisconsinites were able to listen to our story, see that we were harmed and make the decision that they did,” she said. “No one should have to tell their story to a room full of strangers to justify their medical expenses, but I am thankful I had the opportunity to share my story. I hope this sends a powerful message to fellow transgender people in Wisconsin that our health matters.”
Board-approved health insurance coverage for gender confirmation surgery for state employees will be effective in Wisconsin starting Jan. 1, 2019.