ACLU of Iowa Files Civil Rights Complaint on Behalf of Transgender Corrections Employee

Prison Nurse Was Denied Health Care and Use of Men’s Facilities Because He is Transgender

July 21, 2016 2:00 pm

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DES MOINES, IA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa today filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on behalf of Jesse Vroegh, a long-time Iowa Department of Corrections nurse who was discriminated against 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.

“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.”

Iowa Department of Corrections refused to allow Vroegh to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms because he is transgender. It has also denied him health care coverage for medically necessary treatment and procedures, even though it provides coverage for similar procedures for non-transgender employees. The same type of health care that Vroegh needs is covered for state employees who are not transgender.

“All Iowans are entitled to fair and equal treatment in the workplace, including those who are transgender. The state should be setting an example by creating a work environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director. “But here the state has done just the opposite, violating our client’s rights to nondiscrimination in employment under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.”

Last fall, Vroegh’s supervisors said that rather using employee locker rooms and restrooms corresponding with his gender identity, 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.

“Transgender people face rampant discrimination in all aspects of their lives, including in the workplace and when they’re seeking medical care,” said John Knight, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT Project. “The state of Iowa thankfully has laws that protect transgender people, and we intend to pursue justice for Vroegh to the fullest extent of the law.”

A copy of the complaint can be found at:

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