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ACLU Arizona suing Arizona Board of Regents over inadequate medical care for transgender employees

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and a private Phoenix law firm have filed a class action lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body of Arizona’s three public universities, and the state of Arizona for denying transgender employees gender-confirming healthcare on Wednesday, Jan 23. 

“No one should be denied medically necessary care because of who they are,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody in an ACLU press release. “Transgender people are part of our community, our families and our workplaces, and they deserve the same benefits Arizona affords everyone else.” 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Russell Toomey, an associate professor in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona, as well as all transgender individuals enrolled in the state health plan. 

“I filed this lawsuit because I have been unable to access a medically necessary procedure as a result of the state’s discriminatory health plan,” Toomey said in a press release from the ACLU.

Toomey has sought to obtain a gender-confirming medical procedure, which has been recommended by his doctors as a standard and accepted procedure in treating gender dysphoria according to Toomey’s lawyers. 

          RELATED: UA professor sues Arizona Board of Regents for alleged gender-based pay discrepancies in the College of Science

Yet, the lawsuit alleges, Toomey has not been able to obtain this care because the state’s healthcare plan does not cover such procedures. Toomey said he hopes this lawsuit will clear a path for other transgender individuals to be treated with equality.

“I do not want any other transgender employee or dependent, current or future, to suffer with anxiety in the way that I have because of this policy,” Toomey said in the press release. “I love my job at the University of Arizona, and I really want to live in a state that treats all employees and their dependents equally.”

Toomey’s lawsuit, which other affected individuals may join, asks for a court to strike down the state health plan’s exclusion of gender-confirming surgery in its coverage. The lawsuit also asks that transition-related surgery be evaluated as medically necessary using established procedures and standards. 

Toomey’s lawyers plan to argue that because the state health plan does not give individuals the opportunity to show their transition-related surgery is medically necessary, and therefore deserving of coverage, their constitutional rights are being violated. 

“Many transgender people are prescribed transition-related surgery to treat their gender dysphoria and help them live authentically,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, in an ACLU press release. “In some cases, transition-related surgery can be life-saving.”

Block sees the state health plan’s exclusion of coverage for transgender individuals as plainly discriminatory. 

“Arizona’s current health plan unfairly covers many of the same procedures for cisgender employees but unlawfully singles out transgender employees for unequal treatment,” Block said in the press release.  

When the regents set their legislative agenda for this year at a meeting at UA last semester, the regents and university presidents agreed to lobby the state of Arizona to allow Arizona’s public universities to opt out of the state healthcare plan over concerns that financial costs outweighed employee benefits from the state program.

This class action lawsuit come amid two other class action lawsuits at the UA which allege gender pay discrimination for university deans as well as university science professors and researchers.

The Board of Regents had not responded to a request for comment or released a statement at the time of this publication.

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