Trans firefighter sues for alleged discrimination

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This story has been updated to include a statement from Independence Blue Cross.

A 28-year veteran firefighter is suing the City of Philadelphia and other entities for alleged anti-transgender bias after being denied coverage for facial feminization surgery.

“Jane Doe,” 55, filed suit in federal court on Jan. 31. The case has been assigned to Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and a jury trial has been requested.

In addition to the City of Philadelphia, Doe is suing Independence Blue Cross and the Firefighters & Paramedics Local 22 — her union.  All three entities allegedly refuse to ensure bias-free health coverage for Doe, according to her 48-page lawsuit.

Doe lives in Philadelphia and has worked for the city for 28 years as a firefighter, eventually achieving her current position as fire battalion chief. The position is supervisory in nature and Doe oversees the extinguishing of perilous fires within her assigned district.

But Doe suffers from gender dysphoria and all three defendants refuse to ensure her access to medically-necessary surgical procedures so that she can function effectively in life, according to the lawsuit.

Doe is seeking a variety of medical procedures, including rhinoplasty, brow reduction and facial dermabrasion. The requested procedures are medically necessary to alleviate Doe’s gender dysphoria, the lawsuit emphasizes.

But Independence Blue Cross refuses to cover the procedures and Doe has expended much time and resources appealing the denials, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants forced [Doe] to go through an arduous process to secure coverage for facial feminization surgery and related procedures, in the hope that [Doe] would simply give up and go away,” the lawsuit alleges.

Additionally, defendants “recklessly disregarded” Doe’s federally-protected rights by claiming Doe was seeking cosmetic surgery, rather than procedures that are medically necessary, the lawsuit asserts.

“Facial feminization surgery is by definition reconstructive surgery and a medical necessity for women like Ms. Doe, and it is discriminatory to suggest otherwise — or that she is simply seeking to improve her appearance,” the lawsuit continues. “[Doe] is not attempting to ‘improve her appearance’ but is instead attempting to secure medically-necessary treatment for her gender-dysphoria condition.”

The defendants allegedly are placing obstacles in Doe’s path to an authentic life. 

“Ms. Doe has spent years of her life presenting herself in a manner that is not her authentic self and is now age 55, and has been subjected to overt discrimination by Defendants in her attempts to secure for herself features that are more in congruence with her gender identity,” the lawsuit states.

Additionally, the defendants’ “callous” discrimination caused Doe to consider suicide, the lawsuit alleges.

“Defendants have required Ms. Doe to maintain sex characteristics of her sex assigned at birth with which she no longer identifies which has caused Ms. Doe to consider committing suicide,” the lawsuit states.

Moreover, defendants are making impermissible judgments about Doe’s outward appearance rather than respecting Doe’s internal sense of her gender identity, the lawsuit alleges.

The defendants allegedly violated numerous laws that protect transgender individuals and failed to accommodate Doe’s disability (gender dysphoria), according to the lawsuit.

Doe is seeking more than $150,000 in damage along with a judicial order requiring Independence Blue Cross to cover the requested procedures; sensitivity training for all workers employed by the defendants; and a requirement that Independence Blue Cross use the preferred name of insurance claimants throughout their claims process.

Independence Blue Cross issued this statement: “We cannot comment on pending litigation. Our core mission is to enhance the health and well-being of the people and communities we serve. While we can’t comment on this case, what we would emphasize is that we serve all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Equitable care and protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification are written into our medical policies and required by law. Our recently updated policies for gender affirming care also take into consideration the standards published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).”

Attorneys for Doe did not have a comment for this story.

“Given that this case is in active litigation, the City declines to comment,” the city’s Law Department said in an email.