May 14, 2024

Willkie and co-counsel Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) secured a major pro bono win for transgender health care rights at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, with the appeals court upholding a Georgia federal court’s ruling that employers who refuse to cover gender-affirming care violate federal law.

On May 13, the Eleventh Circuit upheld a landmark 2022 ruling in Lange v. Houston County that found that plaintiff Sgt. Anna Lange, a Sheriff’s Deputy for Houston County, Georgia, had been illegally denied insurance coverage for medically necessary care. The Eleventh Circuit decision is the first decision by a federal appellate court affirming that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against transgender people in an employee health plan. The decision is immediately binding on employers in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

“We are pleased that the Eleventh Circuit Court came to the same conclusion as the lower courts that denying health care coverage to transgender individuals is wrong and illegal, and affirmed the lower court ruling in Sergeant Lange’s favor,” said partner Wesley Powell, who led the Willkie team in the case. 

Willkie filed the lawsuit in 2019, in partnership with TLDEF, Cooper, Barton & Cooper in Macon, Georgia, and Professor Kevin Barry of the Quinnipiac University School of Law Legal Clinic in North Haven, Connecticut. In June 2022, the Georgia court issued a summary judgment ruling that the defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying coverage for Sgt. Lange’s medically necessary gender-affirming surgery and related treatments. In September 2022, a federal jury in Macon, Georgia, awarded Sgt. Lange $60,000 in compensatory damages. The historic Eleventh Circuit decision cements Sgt. Lange’s victory in the yearslong case, ensuring greater access to health care for transgender individuals in the South. 

The Willkie team was led by partners Wesley Powell and Jill Grant and associates Catherine Fata and Amanda Payne.

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