Des Moines, Iowa — Today the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a Polk County jury’s verdict in favor of Jesse Vroegh, a former Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) nurse.
Jesse Vroegh (rhymes with "flew") worked as a nurse at the DOC and was denied healthcare coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming surgery because he is transgender, even though the state’s employer-provided healthcare insurance covered the same type of surgery for employees who are cisgender. He was also banned from the men’s restrooms and locker room at work.
The jury found that Vroegh was indeed discriminated against in health care coverage. The jury also found that it was illegal employment discrimination to ban Jesse from using the men’s restrooms and locker room at work, just like all his other male coworkers.
Vroegh's was the first such jury case brought under the Iowa Civil Rights Act since it was amended in 2007 to expressly prohibit discrimination against transgender people at work.
The state has since started providing this coverage for all employees, as required by both state and federal nondiscrimination laws.
Statement from Jesse Vroegh
"This day has been a long time coming. I am so happy that my state supreme court has recognized that transgender people like me should be treated just the same as everyone else when it comes to medical care—that if a doctor says I should receive medical treatment, I get the treatment.
"I am doing this so that other transgender people do not have to go through what I have. I am a nurse and I see on a regular basis how important it is for people to be treated equally when receiving medical care. It's important for all people to be treated with dignity and respect.
"I want to say thank you to those who have made this victory possible. I thank the Iowa Supreme Court for recognizing that transgender people should be treated equally under the law. I want to thank the ACLU and Melissa Hasso for representing me and helping me file this lawsuit. And I want to thank my wife, Jackie, who has stood by me and supported me in all of this. She is an amazing person."
Statement from Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director
(Bettis Austen on second reference)
"This is a historic victory for civil rights in Iowa, because it makes real the promise of nondiscrimination protections in employment that our legislature put in place for transgender Iowans in 2007.
"Despite those longstanding protections, Mr. Vroegh’s employer, the State of Iowa, repeatedly denied his requests to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity at work, and the state’s employee health insurance program excluded coverage for the medically necessary gender-affirming surgery for transgender employees, even though it covered the same procedures so long as they were not to treat gender dysphoria.
"The state should have been a model for other employers in its treatment of a transgender worker, but instead blatantly discriminated against Jesse, who only ever asked to be treated the same as his coworkers.
"We are so grateful to Jesse Vroegh, our inspiring and brave client, for taking on this first-of-its kind legal battle in our state and doing so much to build support and change hearts and minds for those who will come after him. We are also grateful to the Iowa jurors who saw through the state's discriminatory arguments and rendered justice for Jesse, and to the Iowa Supreme Court for upholding their verdict. The victory today simply would not have been possible without the stellar work of Iowa civil rights attorney Melissa Hasso, and John Knight, our co-counsel with the national ACLU LGBTQ Rights Project.”
Statement from ACLU Cooperating Attorney Melissa Hasso, Sherinan and Hasso Law Firm, Des Moines
"The court's ruling today is a very important step forward for our transgender friends, relatives, and co-workers in their efforts to live productive and rewarding lives. It has truly been an honor to represent Jesse and to work with my bright and dedicated colleagues at ACLU Iowa throughout this long battle. Most of all, we are all very proud of our fellow Iowans who sat on the jury, heard the evidence, and reached a decision that promotes equality and justice over discrimination and hatred."
Jesse is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the ACLU LGBT Project, and Melissa Hasso with the Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm in Des Moines.
• Images of Jesse, his family, and other images can be found here.
• More background on the lawsuit, filed in 2017 and believed to be the first transgender employment discrimination lawsuit filed in Iowa since specific legal protections for transgender Iowans was added to the Iowa Civil Rights Act, can be found here.
• The Vroegh case addressed discrimination of transgender people in private health insurance. The ACLU also has brought other litigation for Iowans who have been denied medically necessary gender-affirming care by Iowa Medicaid, which is administered by the state.
• A timeline of all this litigation can be found here.
• Additional transgender rights cases the ACLU of Iowa has filed can be found here.
• The Iowa Supreme Court decision can be found here.