Minnesota sues blood plasma company for barring transgender woman from donating

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is suing a plasma center for refusing to allow a transgender woman to donate.

A lawsuit filed Thursday by Attorney General Keith Ellison on behalf of the Human Rights Department alleges CSL Plasma stopped Alice James from donating because she identifies as a woman.

“I am proud to live in a state where the law demands that people be treated fairly. I hope this case helps to ensure fair treatment for other Minnesotans,” James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

In a statement, Robert Mitchell, CSL Plasma spokesman, disputed the allegations and said the organization complied with the law.


James, who was born biologically male, had donated plasma at the CSL location in Duluth about twice a week from 2011 until June 2015. When she identified as a woman in June 2015, a CSL employee told her the company was not allowing transgender donors.

The Food and Drug Administration updated its long-standing guidance on blood donations in December 2015, modifying a policy that asked plasma companies to screen out men and transgender persons who had sex with other men once or more since 1977. The new guidance focused on allowing donors to self-report their gender and only screening out men who have sex with other men.

James has never had sex with a man, according to the lawsuit.


James filed a discrimination complaint against CSL in February 2016. In response, CSL acknowledged to state officials they had “a flat out ban on all transgender donors,” the lawsuit said.

CSL later revised their policy to be more in line with the FDA guidance, the lawsuit said. The company says it now accepts donations from transgender people who have not had sex with men or engaged in what it describes as other risky behaviors.

“CSL Plasma policies have evolved since the FDA updated its guidance on donor suitability in December 2015,” Mitchell said. “Since that time, CSL Plasma has put in place policies that support self-identification based on gender preference.”

Nevertheless, James claims when she moved to Minneapolis and tried to donate plasma at a CSL location in the city in October 2018 she was barred from donating.

$60 A WEEK

“Refusing to allow James to donate her plasma solely based on her gender identity is unlawful and constitutes a clear violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” said Irina Vaynerman, a deputy human rights commissioner.

James says she was denied about $60 a week in income since 2016 because of CSL’s refusal to allow her to donate plasma.

The lawsuit says CSL declined to participate in mediation offered by the state Department of Human Rights. CSL denies that it wouldn’t work with the state to resolve the issue.

“The state has made no efforts to discuss this matter with us in advance of filing its complaint,” Mitchell said. “Nonetheless, we will work with the Department to resolve this matter or, if that is not possible, will vindicate our position in court.”

The state says CSL violated James’ civil rights regarding public accommodation and discrimination by a business. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties, compensation for James, required training for CSL workers and the reimbursement of expense from the legal action.


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