Judge Marc Treadwell of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia shot down the county’s motions to dismiss Sgt. Anna Lange’s lawsuit in a 37-page opinion issued on Oct. 30.
Lange celebrated the ruling.
“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,” Lange said in a press release following the ruling. “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.”
Lange sued the county’s board of commissioners and personnel director in October 2019. She claimed that the county excluding transgender healthcare in employee health plans violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In August, Treadwelll held a hearing to address two motions to dismiss the case. Attorneys from Atlanta law firm Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson argued that the Houston County Board of Commissioners “lacks the capacity” to be sued.
Treadwell denied the county’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit. Their argument “misstates the law and overlooks key factual allegations,” according to the ruling.
The county also argued that its Sheriff’s Office is an “arm of the state” when it provides healthcare benefits to its employees, and is therefore entitled to sovereign immunity from Lange’s claims. Treadwell denied the county’s claim.
“Lange has alleged sufficient facts to support a plausible inference of individual discrimination,” Treadwell wrote in his ruling.
Lange’s attorneys cited a major U.S. Supreme Court case from June in their original complaint. The decision in a trio of consolidated cases included Bostock v. Clayton County, which involved a gay metro Atlanta man Gerald Bostock. The court ruled that existing federal law prohibits discrimination against employees for being LGBTQ. The plaintiffs asserted Title VII rights in their cases, just as Lange does in hers.
David Brown, Lange’s co-counsel and legal director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, hailed Treadwell’s ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock makes it abundantly clear that discrimination against transgender people is illegal,” Brown said in a press release. “In moving toward trial, Sgt. Lange’s lawsuit aims to make it explicit that transgender people cannot be denied access to medically-necessary care.”
Lange’s attorneys filed a preliminary injunction in November 2019 to force the county to cover the surgery while the case winds through the legal process. Treadwell has not ruled on that yet.
A trial date has not been set.
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