June 3, 2022

In a case brought by The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and Willkie, a Georgia federal court ruled that employers who refuse to cover gender affirming care violate federal law.

On June 2, a Georgia federal district court issued a landmark ruling holding that an employer cannot exclude coverage for gender affirming care under its employee health insurance plan. The Court in Lange v. Houston County held that defendants Houston County, Georgia and Sheriff Cullen Talton had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by denying coverage for Plaintiff Anna Lange’s medically necessary gender-affirming surgery and related treatments.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2019 by Willkie and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), on behalf of Sgt. Anna Lange, a Sheriff’s Deputy for Houston County, Georgia, who was repeatedly denied insurance coverage for her medically necessary gender-affirming care.

Anna Lange has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, with 16 of those years serving as a Sheriff’s Deputy in Houston County, Georgia. In 2017, Sgt. Lange came out to her employer as a transgender woman and began living openly as her authentic self both at her workplace and community. In Chief Judge Marc T. Treadwell’s 33-page ruling, Sgt. Lange was described as “an exceptional employee who has ‘performed her duties as an investigator very well’ throughout her tenure.”

Sgt. Lange was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by her healthcare provider and was prescribed gender affirming care. In attempting to obtain this care, she learned that Houston County unlawfully excluded gender affirming care from coverage under its employee health plan. Sgt. Lange and her attorneys repeatedly attempted to persuade her employer to reconsider its decision, testifying before the Houston County Board of Commissioners and filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As part of the ruling, the Court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which held that transgender people are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the Court’s decision, Chief Judge Treadwell wrote, “The implication of Bostock is clear… Bostock covers any possible intended point — discrimination on the basis of transgender status is discrimination on the basis of sex and is a violation of Title VII.”

The Court also found that Houston County knowingly excluded gender affirming care from its health insurance plan despite receiving guidance from the County’s insurance administrator, who advised it was unlawful to maintain the exclusion under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

The Willkie team was led by partner Wesley Powell, counsel Jill Grant, and associate Catherine Fata.

The Lange v. Houston County, GA lawsuit was filed in 2019 by TLDEF, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, law firm Cooper, Barton & Cooper in Macon, Georgia, and Professor Kevin Barry of the Quinnipiac University School of Law Legal Clinic in North Haven, Connecticut.