A jury ruled last week that an Iowa prison warden had discriminated against a transgender employee by not letting him use the restroom and locker rooms as a transgender man. The jury awarded Jesse Vroegh, who was born female but transitioned to male, $120,000 for emotional distress. While transgender advocates have been forcing this on schools for some time, it looks like it’s shifting to the workplace.
Vroegh, 37, started working as a nurse at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville in 2009. Prior to transitioning, Vroegh used the women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Several years later, Vroegh began to transition from female to male after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Vroegh asked Warden Patti Wachtendorf to use the male bathrooms and locker rooms. The warden denied Vroegh’s requests, noting the privacy rights of male employees; as an accommodation she designated two single-occupancy bathrooms as gender neutral for Vroegh to use. Vroegh’s health insurance plan for state employees refused to cover a chest surgery that had been recommended by Vroegh’s doctors to treat his gender dysphoria. The jury awarded monetary damages based on the claim of discrimination by both the warden and the insurance company.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented Vroegh. ACLU lawyer Melissa Hasso said the verdict marks “an historic day for transgender Iowans, their friends and families.”
Jurors ruled Vroegh was discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in denying his use of the men’s bathrooms, and that the Department of Administrative Services, which administers benefits for state employees, discriminated against him by denying his insurance benefits. According to news reports, attorneys for the state will likely appeal.
I’m surprised and appalled a jury of peers would come to this decision as a group and that the facts of this case were presented as discrimination. Of course discrimination on the basis of “sex” is appropriate and legal. But it should not be extended to “gender identity” because it is just that — how a person identifies or wants to be seen. It isn’t discrimination to tell another person, who is clearly female, to use the bathroom as a female, particularly at a workplace where other employees must be considered.
Likewise, it’s illogical to assume that an insurance company should cover the cost of a medical procedure, which isn’t only unnecessary, but which many experts consider to be harmful and unnecessary to treating dysphoria, which is psychological.
Watching the transgender lobby, with the powerful ACLU behind them, take the transgender bathroom wars from schools to the workplace with success shows a frightening disdain for the privacy and rights of others.