Employee Benefits Under the Microscope as Transgender Discrimination Case Begins in Alaska

When a state health care plan denies a librarian coverage for transition surgery, she takes her case to the courts.
By: | July 13, 2020

A librarian for the state of Alaska filed a discrimination lawsuit against the state’s health insurance after she was denied coverage for transgender surgery.

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Jennifer Fletcher began working for the state in 2012 and was promoted as the state’s legislative librarian in 2014. At the time of her promotion, she came out to her colleagues and began the process of transitioning. Her announcement was met with support from her coworkers, as well as the start to Fletcher’s hormone replacement therapy.

However, at the time, legislation barred coverage for transitioning employees. AlaskaCare, the state’s health insurance run by Aetna, did not include any coverage for transgender-related procedures until 2018.

From 2014 to present, Fletcher spent approximately $25,000 on surgical costs. Fletcher tried to use her employee health care benefits to help cover some of her costs. But AlaskaCare denied her request.

According to Aetna policy, surgical treatment for transgender issues is deemed as “medically necessary,” but AlaskaCare replied that it was “refraining” from providing coverage to Fletcher regardless.

In 2017, Fletcher took up the matter with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which gave her clearance to file suit.

In Fletcher’s complaint against the state, her attorneys noted “AlaskaCare singles out transgender employees for unequal treatment by categorically depriving them of coverage for surgical treatment for gender dysphoria … This exclusion contravenes a well-established medical consensus that such surgical treatment can be medically necessary and even life-saving.”

This is not the first time a lawsuit of this nature has been brought to light by employees in the U.S. According to the Associated Press, “Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states, including Wisconsin.”

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With the recent ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act, in which the court ruled it unlawful and discriminatory for employers to bar employment based on sexual orientation, Fletcher and her team are interested to see how the law shapes their case.

Scorecard: The case was officially filed earlier this year with court rulings pending.

Takeaway: The law is evolving to extend greater protection for LGBT rights. Employee benefits should grow alongside or face potential backlash or litigation. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]