11th Circuit to Consider Legality of Exclusion of Transgender Medical Care from Plan

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit recently heard oral arguments in the appeal of an unlawful discrimination case involving a county health plan’s exclusion of coverage of gender transition surgery. The case is Anna Lange v. Houston County, Georgia, et al., case number 22-13626, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Houston County, Georgia, and its Sheriff, Cullen Talton, appealed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Deputy Sheriff Anna Lange in her Title VII disparate treatment claim in June 2022. A federal jury also awarded her $60,000 in emotional damages.

The appellate panel of judges focused on whether they would be overreaching by upholding the lower court’s grant of summary judgment. That court issued a permanent injunction against the county plan, excluding medical and pharmacy coverage for gender reassignment surgery. One judge asked for a response to the county’s argument that upholding the lower court’s order would effectively grant gender dysphoria “most favored nation” status. In response, Lange’s attorney stated that the plan could still deny procedures using exclusions not based on sex so long as they did not violate Title VII. Lange’s attorney also confirmed to the court that Lange had already undergone gender reassignment surgery as planned.

Another judge pressed the county on its argument that the plan exclusion wasn’t discriminatory because some transgender employees didn’t want sex reassignment surgery. The attorney for the county reiterated that the exclusion was based not on whether the individual was transgender but only on whether the individual wanted surgery.

The U.S. Department of Justice also argued as amicus in favor of Lange, urging the panel to affirm the lower court’s judgment. DOJ attorney Anna Baldwin argued that sex discrimination is unavoidable when you discriminate against transgender women.

The county is seeking to reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lange and the award of $60,000 in emotional damages.

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