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Vroegh v. Iowa Department of Corrections

Location: Iowa
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: May 13, 2022

What's at Stake

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against The Iowa Department of Corrections for denying a nurse at the facility use of the restrooms and locker rooms that align with his gender identity and necessary medical treatment because he is transgender. The complaint was co-filed with the ACLU and cooperating attorney Melissa Hasso with the Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm in West Des Moines.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Jesse Vroegh, a staff nurse at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) for the past seven years who is transgender. After beginning medical treatment for gender dysphoria and consistently using male facilities in public places, Vroegh approached his supervisors to let them know that he is male and would transition to presenting as male and begin using male facilities at work.

Vroegh’s supervisors said that rather than using the men’s locker rooms and restrooms, he would be required to use a unisex private restroom to dress and store his belongings, isolating him from all of his co-employees. The unisex restroom doesn’t have a shower, so unlike his co-workers, Vroegh has no option for showering at work.

In addition, the state employee health care plan has denied Jesse health care coverage for medically necessary surgery because he is transgender, even though it provides coverage for similar procedures for non-transgender employees.

“In this country and in Iowa, everyone should be treated fairly in the workplace — especially when your employer is the state,” says Vroegh. “Rather than setting a good example for other Iowa employers, the state has denied me the use of gendered spaces as well as the health insurance coverage I need, simply because I am transgender. I hope my fight for fairness in the workplace will make a difference for the many other transgender people who have faced similar discrimination at work.”

In 2019, a Polk County jury concluded that the state discriminated against Jesse by denying him use of the men’s room at work and by denying him insurance coverage for medically necessary surgery, and awarded him $120,000 in damages.

Update: The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict in 2022 and the case is over.

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