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Jury awards $780,000 to two transgender women at UW in state ban of health coverage

October 12, 2018

A jury has awarded $479,500 to a transgender UW-Madison employee and $301,000 to a transgender UW-Madison student after a federal judge found a state ban on insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery to be sex discrimination.

The jury award Wednesday comes as the state plans to end the ban Jan. 1 after a board overseeing health benefits for state workers voted 5-4 in August to allow the coverage.

The state Department of Justice is “evaluating our next steps which may include an appeal,” spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said Thursday.

A lawsuit was filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Shannon Andrews, a cancer researcher at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Alina Boyden, a graduate student. It claimed the state’s ban on coverage of transgender medical services for state workers violated part of the federal Civil Rights Act.

In a ruling in September, U.S. District Court Judge William Conley agreed. After a trial that began in Madison Tuesday, the jury awarded damages.

“No one should have to tell their story to a room full of strangers to justify their medical expenses, but I am thankful that I had the opportunity to share my story,” Boyden said in a statement. “I hope this sends a powerful message to fellow transgender people in Wisconsin that our health matters.”

Boyden paid about $1,000 for hormones because of the lack of insurance coverage, said Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin. Andrews paid about $79,000 for two surgeries, Dupuis said.

The jury awards were for medical expenses and emotional pain and suffering, Dupuis said.

“Discrimination comes with a cost, and for the state of Wisconsin the bill has come,” Dupuis said in a statement.

The Group Insurance Board ended a ban on coverage of transgender medical services in July 2016, effective Jan. 1, 2017. Attorneys with the state Department of Employee Trust Funds said the coverage was required by federal rules stemming from the Affordable Care Act.

But in August 2016, the state Department of Justice, at Gov. Scott Walker’s request, asked the board to reconsider, saying “unlawful” federal rules “improperly interpret” Title IX, which covers discrimination on the basis of sex, as applying to gender identity.

On Dec. 30, 2016, the board decided the coverage, starting two days later, would end if certain legal developments occurred. Four contingencies, including a court ruling invalidating the federal rules, were met Feb. 1, 2017, and the coverage stopped.

In August of this year, the insurance board voted to begin the coverage again Jan. 1.

In a separate case, Conley ruled in July that the state can’t bar the use of Medicaid funds to pay for transgender surgery.

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