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Transgender woman’s discrimination award will not be appealed by Yellowstone County

By Rob Rogers

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    BILLINGS, Montana (Billings Gazette) — Officials will not appeal a state ruling requiring Yellowstone County to pay damages to a transgender former employee who faced discrimination under the county’s health insurance plan.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry awarded damages of $66,531 to Eleanor Maloney on Monday after the Montana Human Rights Bureau ruled in August the county had discriminated against her on the basis of sex.

The ruling also found the county’s health insurance plan, which barred treatments and therapy related to gender-affirming health care, was unconstitutional because it discriminated on the basis of gender.

Yellowstone County started the process last summer to remove from its health insurance policies discriminatory language after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects employees from specific types of discrimination, also applies to transgender workers.

The latest state ruling on Maloney didn’t impact the county’s health insurance policies because changes were already in the works, said chief deputy county attorney Jeana Lervick.

Maloney joined the county attorney’s office in 2016 as a prosecutor specializing in child abuse and neglect cases. She was diagnosed in 2018 with gender dysphoria and started exploring health care options.

She was still employed by the county at that point and was seeking to understand her diagnosis. She was meeting regularly with a therapist and was working to figure out if gender reassignment surgery or some other treatment was her best option.

Choosing surgery meant finding and meeting with a surgeon and eventually setting a date for a procedure. The wait list for many of these procedures can be years long so she put her name on a wait list while she figured out her best course of action.

In order to do that she needed approval from her health insurer, which in this case was Yellowstone County. The county is self-insured and its program is administered by EBMS.

The county denied her request, citing its health insurance plan that excludes “services or supplies related to sexual reassignment and reversal of such procedures.”

Citing the same policy, the county also sought a return of payments from Maloney’s therapist for the counseling sessions she had received related to gender dysphoria.

Maloney, unsure about the future of her health insurance, resigned from the county attorney’s office and looked for a job in western Montana that offered insurance that would cover her health care needs.

She then filed a discrimination complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau.

The damages awarded by Montana Department of Labor and Industry gives Yellowstone County 60 days to pay Maloney $66,531, which covers lost wages and benefits stemming from her departure from the county attorney’s office.

The county will pay out the damages from budgeted funds.

“We hope the conclusion allows Ms. Maloney to continue with her pursuits,” Lervick said.

The order also requires the county to discontinue enforcing the provision in its health insurance that bars transgender treatment, which the county addressed last summer.

It also requires the county to perform transgender discrimination training with employees and work with an attorney familiar with transgender issues to create and adopt “improvement policies and notices regarding transgender discrimination.”

Maloney declined an interview on Tuesday, but released a statement in which she expressed gratitude for the ruling.

“I’m grateful that the rights of LGBTQIA+ Montanans are vindicated today,” she said.

Alex Rate, legal director for ACLU-MT, said the damages awarded by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the ruling made by the Montana Human Rights Bureau should clearly dispel the idea that employers can treat their transgender workers any differently than other workers.

“Today’s decision should stand as a clear warning to any county that seeks to deny medically necessary health care to transgender Montanans,” Rate said. “These provisions are blatantly discriminatory and cannot stand.”

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