Public library employee Rachel Dovel sued her employer Monday after repeated pleas for the library to cover transgender transition surgery failed.
Her case, filed in U.S. District Court against the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Community Insurance Company/Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, alleges the library is:
* Violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which says employers shall not discriminate because of an individual’s sex.
* Violating the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection.
It alleges Anthem is:
* Violating the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination.
Dovel, 33, of Clifton Heights, has worked for the library for more than 10 years. She is an electronic line assistant, a job in which she enters data on new materials into the system.
She is asking the court to order the library to cover the cost of her gender reassignment surgery; prohibit Anthem from selling insurance plans that exclude coverage for transition-related care; and prohibit the library from carrying insurance that excludes coverage for transition-related care. And she is asking for damages.
“It is time for blatant discrimination against transgender employees to end,” said Jennifer Branch, Dovel’s lawyer. “A government employer, like the public library, knows it cannot discriminate against its transgender employees; but yet it continues to deny Ms. Dovel necessary medical treatment. Rachel had no choice but to seek compensation for her estimated $25,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses.”
Dovel said she has found herself a champion of rights even outside the work place.
“It’s difficult for transgender people to find employment or employment with progressive insurance benefits,” Dovel said. “If more people were willing to challenge it or other employers see it as something that is required that would be a great outcome too.”
In 2014, Dovel was diagnosed with gender dysphoria; her doctors recommended she have sex reassignment surgery. Dovel, who legally changed her name from Nathan last year, brought the issue to light earlier this year after her insurance declined to cover gender confirmation surgery. The Library Board of Trustees twice voted to deny Dovel health insurance coverage for the surgery saying the move would be too costly.
“While we’re sympathetic to the desire and even the need for transgender surgery, we’re recommending no change for a number of reasons,” board member Bill Moran said in June. “We are stewards of public money. It would not be fair to ask the public to pay, it’s not just one rider. It’s a number of riders.”
Dovel first filed a charge with discrimination with the EEOC, which on June 27 sent Dovel a right to sue letter. She had 90 days in which to file suit.
Dovel cannot wait for the Library or Anthem to change its policy. She plans to secure a personal loan so she can pay for the surgery herself.
The library’s board decision comes as transgender rights are at the forefront of LGBT rights. In December 2014, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn killed herself in Warren County, leaving behind a suicide note that said she wanted her death to mean something. It garnered worldwide attention, helping shed light on discrimination.
“I have seen discrimination against transgender employees for decades and how damaging it is to both the employee and the company,” said Scott Knox, who is also representing Dovel.
Other government entitles and companies have made changes to protect the rights of employees who need transgender care. Among them: the City of Cincinnati, the City of Columbus, Procter & Gamble, Fifth Third Bank, Macy’s, and Convergys.
“The Public Library needs to follow the law and value its employees,” Knox said.