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Iowa High Court Anti-Trans Discrimination Win

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March 31, 2022.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday to uphold most of a 2019 jury verdict that decided the state had discriminated against a transgender state prison nurse when it would not allow him to use the men’s locker rooms or restrooms at the facility. The prison also denied him access to gender-affirming surgery because of his gender identity.

The court’s decision to recognize gender identity discrimination is a huge victory for LGBTQ+ advocates. The decision is also a win for Jesse Vroegh, the former nurse at Iowa’s Mitchellville prison for women. The jury awarded him $120,000 in damages for emotional distress, and the high court upheld that award as well as the payment of $348,000 to cover his attorneys’ fees.

An Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson told the Associated Press in a statement that a new agency director and prison warden have been put in place since Vroegh was an employee.

“The DOC does everything it can to create a safe and accommodating environment for all its employees,” the statement provided by spokesperson Nick Crawford said.

The Supreme Court did reject Vroegh’s argument that he suffered sex discrimination as well as gender identity discrimination.

“Discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity does not equate to discrimination based on the individual’s male or female anatomical characteristics at the time of birth (the definition of ‘sex’). An employer could discriminate against transgender individuals without even knowing the sex of the individuals adversely affected,” the court’s decision reads.

The court also said Vroegh could not sue the state’s insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which said its plan at the time did not cover gender-affirming care. That changed in 2017, the AP reports.

Written by: PRX101

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