A jury in Iowa has concluded that the state discriminated against a former Iowa Department of Corrections nurse because the employer wouldn’t let her use the bathrooms with male employees. The jury also said the Iowa Department of Corrections denied Jesse Vreogh health care coverage for “medically necessary surgery”—i.e. a double mastectomy to look more like a man.
The jury awarded Vreogh $120,000 for the “emotional distress” of both instances based on Iowa’s sexual orientation and gender identity law, which was introduced in 2007 and signed by Democrat Gov. Chet Culver. Lawmakers of both major parties vote for such bills in statehouses and cities around the country. Indiana’s Republican governor, for example, is pushing anti-speech legislation on related topics and grounds.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said Wednesday that the ruling is a “historic win for transgender rights in Iowa.”
Here’s What Happened
In 2009, Vreogh started working at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville as a nurse. In 2014, Vreogh informed her boss she was going to start presenting as a man. As part of that process, she later asked for permission to use male locker rooms and bathrooms at the workplace. The warden instead designated two gender-neutral restrooms for Vreogh’s use.
Given how long Vreogh had been employed at the facility, it’s hardly honest to claim discrimination. Court documents say Vreogh has “presented as a male” in the way she dresses since 2000. Vreogh started working there in 2009 yet it wasn’t until 2014 and 2015 that Vreogh she suddenly demanded opposite-sex facility access, then claimed discrimination.
If Vreogh has been transgender since 2000, why did she remain at the job for more than a decade when she was supposedly discriminated against by that employer?
She also complained that the Iowa Department of Corrections denied health insurance coverage for a “medically necessary” transgender surgery. Vreogh’s doctors recommended she have her breasts cut off to treat gender dysphoria. State employees’ insurer, Wellmark, said its plan did not cover any gender reassignment surgery, although it later began paying for transgender medical services to state employees beginning in 2017.
Gender reassignment surgery is not a medical necessity. In fact, many professionals believe it does more harm than good. This National Center for Biotechnology Information study said “Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this.”
Insurance companies should reserve the right to not cover cosmetic surgeries such as gender change treatments, which are not proven fixes for an actual physical ailment like heart surgery for artery blockage or hip surgery for a bad hip. We’re talking cutting off and reshaping healthy body parts for no benefit to the person’s physical well-being.
That the insurance company was sued for discrimination successfully on these grounds is simply unbelievable in its exaggerated definition of medical necessity. Can I now file a lawsuit against my insurance company if they don’t give me breasts like Kate Upton, a smile like Chrissy Teigen’s, and a button nose like Amy Adams because I claim without them, I’m not a fully feminine woman?
The state of Iowa will likely appeal the verdict. USA Today reports, “The Iowa Department of Corrections is ‘working with the Office of the Attorney General to review the decision and evaluate our options,’ according to spokesman Cord Overton.” It’s possible the Iowa Department of Corrections will be forced to conform to transgender policies during the appeal process. Who knows where this could end up. Will male prisoners now claim access to female prisons? What about male guards demanding access to female prisoner facilities?
‘Discrimination’ Laws Are Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
According to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, in 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act “was expanded to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes” and from then on it was deemed illegal in Iowa “to discriminate against a person because of his/her sexual orientation or gender identity.” The jury decided in favor of Vreogh’s complaints because of this statute.
What was the discrimination exactly? According to court documents, it included that the prison system “had taken no steps to develop policies for transgender employees for equal access to single-sex spaces, such as restrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender identities.”
All that happened was Vreogh was asked to use a separate bathroom, set aside just for that use, rather than interfere with the privacy rights of male employees. This isn’t discrimination but accommodation.
It’s somewhat like a law firm that allows nursing mothers to pump breast milk in the privacy of their office or another room. It’s not discriminatory, it’s an accommodation–the best a firm can do for something that is important but only applies to a small percentage of employees. Would any pumping mother sit in her private space and assume she’s being discriminated against? No. Nor should she. It’s the height of self-absorption and power-mongering to take an accommodation given in generosity as an insult.
Now that gender identity is considered the same as race according to the Iowa statute, the Iowa jury that decided this implied that Vreogh’s use of a private bathroom a handful of times a day at work is somehow comparable to discrimination faced by African-Americans. Remember, African-American children were forced to go to different (and far worse-quality) schools, use different water fountains, and go to different establishments than white people in the 1960s, among many other indignities. This comparison is not only preposterous but offensively so.
This kind of logic not only leaves workplaces open to a myriad of lawsuits based on flimsy discrimination claims, but employers are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Imagine if the employer had honored Vreogh’s request and she began to use the same restroom and locker room as the male employees. Suppose they felt discriminated against because they were now sharing a private room with a woman, so they banded together and filed their own discrimination lawsuit? If you think they would have won on the same claim, then either the jury made the wrong ruling or the Iowa Civil Rights Act needs to reconsider whether gender identity really is the same as sex, religion, and race.