Judge: Georgia county can’t deny gender surgery to deputy

Jun 11, 2022, 6:38 AM | Updated: 6:39 am

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge has found that a Georgia sheriff’s office was illegally discriminating when it denied gender reassignment surgery to a deputy.

U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell ruled June 2 that Houston County cannot exclude surgery for the transgender woman from its health insurance plan, citing a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision finding that a Michigan funeral home couldn’t fire an employee for being transgender.

The case involves Sgt. Anna Lange, an investigator in the middle Georgia county who began her transition in 2017 after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

“I can confidently move forward with my life knowing that gender affirming care is protected under federal law,” Lange said in a statement released by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which represented her. “This decision is not only a personal victory, but a tremendous step forward for all transgender Southerners who are seeking insurance coverage for medically necessary care.”

David Brown, legal director for the fund, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the ruling is believed to be the first of its kind in the South.

Neither Talton nor the county’s lawyers responded to requests for comment.

Treadwell wrote in his order that Lange, a 16-year-employee, told the sheriff and other county officials in 2018 that she wanted to begin dressing as a woman at work, while inquiring about whether Houston County’s health plan would cover gender reassignment surgery.

Sheriff Cullen Talton, first elected sheriff in 1972, initially took it as a joke, Treadwell wrote, and then said he doesn’t “believe in sex changes,” before ultimately granting permission for Lange to dress as a woman, but warned she would need “tough skin” to deal with her coworkers.

But the county health plan had excluded sex change surgery and drugs since 1998. Lange was denied authorization for surgery in November 2018 after county personnel director Kenneth Carter told the insurer the county wanted to keep the exclusion, even though the insurer had advised Houston County in 2016 that the rule was discriminatory under the federal Affordable Care Act.

County commissioners voted unanimously to keep the exclusion in 2019, after Lange had asked them to pay for the surgery in a public meeting, claiming they were trying to keep health insurance costs low. The surgery she was seeking was estimated to cost $25,600 at the time.

Treadwell found it’s undisputed that Lange’s surgery “medically necessary” and questioned whether the concern about costs was just a smokescreen to discriminate against Lange.

“Certainly, the county now professes concern about costs, but that argument is undercut by the undisputed fact that the county built its cost defense after the fact,” Treadwell wrote.

But the judge said the Supreme Court made clear in a 2020 case that treating someone differently because they are transgender violates a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. For example, the judge noted the county health plan would pay for a mastectomy for cancer treatment, but not to treat gender dysphoria.

“Discrimination on the basis of transgender status is discrimination on the basis of sex and is a violation of Title VII,” the judge wrote.

Lange’s case is not yet over. Treadwell must still rule on what remedies are appropriate. He also denied Lange’s claims for money damages and for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Public records obtained by Lange’s lawyers show the county has spend more than $690,000 defending the case.

“It just shows the length people are still willing to go to discriminate against transgender people,” Lange told the Journal-Constitution.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks inside the Recorders Office, Nov. 9, 2022, in...
Associated Press

Dominion conspiracies highlighted by Fox lawsuit have election officials concerned for safety

Maricopa County officials are bracing for what could happen when it comes time to replace its contract for voting equipment.
1 day ago
A building is damaged and trees are down after severe storm swept through Little Rock, Ark., Friday...
Associated Press

Tornado causes widespread damage to buildings, vehicles in Little Rock

A tornado raced through Little Rock and surrounding areas Friday, splintering homes, overturning vehicles and tossing trees.
1 day ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a cam...
Associated Press

Worries grow that Trump indictment could undermine public confidence in other investigations

Trump’s attempts to overturn those results amid false claims of widespread fraud are at the heart of two other ongoing investigations.
1 day ago
(Facebook Photo/Superior Court of Arizona in Yavapai County)...
Associated Press

Arizona judge has cases reassigned following DUI arrest

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that all cases currently assigned to a Yavapai County Superior Court judge recently arrested on suspicion of extreme DUI will be reassigned to other judges.
5 days ago
Haitian migrant Gerson Solay, 28, carries his daughter, Bianca, as he and his family cross into Can...
Associated Press

US, Canada to end loophole that allows asylum-seekers to move between countries

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement.
8 days ago
Expert skateboarder Di'Orr Greenwood, an artist born and raised in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and...
Associated Press

Indigenous skateboard art featured on new stamps unveiled at Phoenix skate park

The Postal Service unveiled the “Art of the Skateboard" stamps at a Phoenix skate park, featuring designs from Indigenous artists.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Judge: Georgia county can’t deny gender surgery to deputy