MACON, Ga. — A sheriff’s deputy returned to court Monday for a civil trial seeking monetary damages from the Georgia county that employs her after a federal judge ruled her bosses illegally denied the deputy health coverage for gender reassignment surgery.
Sgt. Anna Lange wants a jury to award her damages for emotional distress, attorney fees and repayment of more than $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs she incurred because Houston County excluded surgery for the transgender woman from its health insurance plan.
U.S. District Court Judge Marc Treadwell ruled in June that the county’s refusal to cover Lange’s prescribed gender reassignment treatments amounted to illegal sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Treadwell’s order cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision finding that a Michigan funeral home couldn’t fire an employee for being transgender. He also found it undisputed that Lange’s surgery was “medically necessary.”
However, the judge deemed there was insufficient evidence to decide as a matter of law whether the county intentionally discriminated against Lange and therefore owed her monetary damages. He ordered a civil trial so that a jury could decide the issue.
Treadwell wrote in his June order that Lange 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, told Lange he doesn’t “believe in sex changes” before ultimately granting permission her permission to dress as a woman, the judge wrote.
But the county health plan had excluded sex change surgery and drugs since 1998, and evidence showed Houston County officials opted to keep the exclusion even after their insurance company advised them in 2016 that the rule was discriminatory under the federal Affordable Care Act.
County officials argued they didn’t intentionally discriminate against Lange because she was transgender, but rather were trying to keep health insurance costs low.