Library settles transgender lawsuit, now covers transgender surgery – by Sharon Coolidge

Rachel Dovel didn’t mean to become a crusader for transgender rights. But the library employee found herself cast in that role last year when the library’s health insurance refused to pay for her gender confirmation surgery – and the library’s board wouldn’t budge.

She underwent surgery in December – and Monday she and her legal team announced she settled a lawsuit against the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  

“This makes it worth it,” Dovel said. “Now the next person won’t have to do that too.”

Under terms of the agreement, the library:

  • Changed its healthcare plan effective Jan. 1 to include transgender surgery and other medical care for transgender people
  • Agreed to listen to the recommendations of its employees about purchasing and offering LGBT-related materials and events
  • Will continue its practice of using gender-neutral employment forms and providing gender-neutral restrooms when feasible
  • Offer employees training on LGBT inclusion.

It’s not clear if there was a monetary settlement. Jennifer Branch, whose law firm Gerhardstein & Branch along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Law Office of Scott Knox, declined to comment on that.

Since filing the lawsuit in September Dovel underwent the surgery even though coverage was denied by health care insurer Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. While she’s happy with the result, the insurance change came too late for Dovel. She took out a personal loan to cover the cost of the surgery.

“Employers across the country should take note that denying medically necessary care for transgender employees is unlawful,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Transgender Youth Project Staff Attorney Asaf Orr. “This settlement not only benefits Ms. Dovel… This is a victory for all LGBT Cincinnatians.”

Branch added, “This settlement demonstrates how critical it is that we work with employers to resolve issues fairly for employees.

Dovel argued that denying medically necessary health care for a transgender employee constituted discrimination on the basis of sex, pointing out non-transgender employees received medical coverage for the same or substantially similar medical care denied to transgender employees.

Dovel legally changed her name from Nathan early last year, came out to her coworkers and was ready for the surgery that would allow her to live what she felt was a more authentic life as a woman. Dovel found the library’s insurance plan wouldn’t cover the surgery. She assumed the lack of coverage was an oversight.

But in the following months, the library continued to refuse to add such coverage to the insurance plan, prompting Dovel to make her plea public. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the library’s health insurer, Anthem, announced it would offer coverage for sex reassignment surgery under the base plan.

In a news release about the settlement Andrea Kaufman, human resources director at the library said the library was within its rights to consider the impact of adding coverage to the health insurance premiums of employees “when looking at adding coverage that would have benefited only one.”

“We are glad Anthem ultimately added this coverage to our base plan and glad to have reached a happy resolution with our employee Ms. Dovel,” she said.

The settlement comes as transgender rights are at the forefront of LGBT rights. In December 2014, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn killed herself in Warren County, leaving behind a suicide note that said she wanted her death to mean something. It garnered worldwide attention, helping shed light on discrimination.

Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach, who paved the way for the city to be the first city in Ohio to cover medically necessary transgender procedures for employees, helped Dovel make her case.

“While it’s great to see that Rachel has been vindicated, it’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for justice to prevail,” said Seelbach.

Dovel hopes her story can help others.

“Don’t give up,” is the message she wants others to know, she said. The 34-year-old Clifton Heights woman found she wasn’t alone. People gathered at press conferences for her and others attended library board meetings.

“The powers that be tend to respond to persistence, particularly now,” Dovel said. “Push for things you deserve. At times I thought I would never get healthcare.”

3 thoughts on “Library settles transgender lawsuit, now covers transgender surgery

  1. Mutilation of one’s genitalia is NOT “Medically necessary health care”. It is, at best, an elective cosmetic surgery, akin to a nosejob or facelift, and at worst it is a sign of a complete mental insanity masquerading as a human rights issue.

  2. Agreed Darzak, how in the world can elective cosmetic surgery be deemed “medically necessary”? And what the hell is this: “non-transgender employees received medical coverage for the same or substantially similar medical care denied to transgender employees.”? I don’t think so!

    1. What exactly is “substantially similar” for a normal person to getting your peepee whacked off?

      But in the meantime, they nickel and dime diabetics for insulin and supplies they really need to stay alive, and call a sex change operation “medically necessary”.

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