Employee Sues over Gender Change Benefits Denial

June 22, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A transgender public employee has sued the state of Oregon because its health plan refused to cover a surgery as part of his transition to becoming a man.

Reuters reports that Alec Esquivel, a 41-year-old law clerk at the Oregon Court of Appeals who was born a woman, sued the state and its public employee benefits board claiming discrimination based on gender identity in what the news report said is the first lawsuit of this kind.

Esquivel, who began transitioning to a man in 2001 after being diagnosed with gender identity disorder, was recommended by his doctor to undergo a hysterectomy in 2010. Esquivel is asking the courts to order the state to cover his operation and to award him $250,000 in damages for emotional distress.

According to the lawsuit, he was denied coverage for the hysterectomy by his state employee health insurance company based on the plan’s categorical exclusion of transition-related health care. The suit claims the procedure is medically necessary to reduce the serious health risks of ovarian and uterine cancer from taking testosterone.

The lawsuit argues that Oregon’s anti-discrimination law prohibits an employer from denying insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity.

“This is the first suit to apply [anti-discrimination] laws to health care,” said attorney Dru Levasseur, according to Reuters. “By not covering this procedure, the state is refusing to provide him with the same health care coverage as his co-workers.”

The news report said that earlier this month, Portland, Oregon, passed transgender-inclusive health care benefits for city employees. It joins San Francisco and Portland’s Multnomah County as the third jurisdiction to specifically guarantee such coverage.

Sara Kelly