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Former Springfield employee may seek damages over denial of gender dysphoria care

Maureen Foertsch McKinney

A transgender woman is expected to seek damages after the Illinois Human Rights Commission ruled that the city of Springfield’s denial of treatment for her gender dysphoria appears to have violated the state’s Human Rights Act.

Katherine Holt managed access services for Springfield between February and November 2020. She repeatedly tried to get treatment, but the city’s health policy only offered drug therapy for other conditions.

In Illinois, gender identity is a valid basis for determining a person's sex under the law, wrote the Human Rights Department spokeswoman in an email. LGBTQ rights have been protected by the law since 2006.

A spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois said Holt has not decided in which venue she will seek remedy, but added she may ask for cash damages and or removal of the clause in the insurance policy.

“I am glad that the Human Rights Commission has affirmed that my healthcare should not be denied because of my gender identity,” said Holt in reaction to the decision provided by the ACLU of Illinois. “Transgender employees deserve the same protections as all other workers. The City of Springfield denied me coverage under its employee plan simply because of who I am. That was wrong.” Holt declined further comment.

Josh Blecher-Cohen is an attorney for the ACLU.

“We’re hopeful this decision in Ms. Holt’s case will send a message to other municipal employers and other employers of all types – discriminatory exclusions in their health care plans should come out so that transgender workers are treated the same way as other workers,” he said

“In the matter of Kate Holt v. City of Springfield, IDHR conducted an investigation and has issued a finding of substantial evidence of a violation. This means that the case can be litigated before a judge, either in a circuit court or at the Illinois Human Rights Commission. If a violation of the Act is found, then the court or Commission may award damages,’’ the email stated.

The city of Springfield said it was reviewing the case but otherwise declined to comment.

The ACLU of Illinois said it might be the first such case in Illinois, but a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Rights Department could not verify that.

Meanwhile, advocates are applauding the commission’s decision to label the city of Springfield’s refusal to pay for a transwoman employee’s gender dysphoria care as discriminatory.

Brian Johnson, the CEO of the LGBTQ rights organization Equality Illinois, said many transgender individuals report believing their health care treatment and insurance coverage is inequitable as compared to non-trans peers. Trans people also report being in worse health than their non trans peers.

“When our elected leaders acting as an employer are not standing up for basic equality of care, let alone equity of care for their employees, it’s absolutely the wrong message about the rights and responsibilities public leaders have to protect all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Johnson said about a quarter of trans people will avoid going to the doctor because they fear being mistreated.

The IDHR’s email said, “Illinois has been on the forefront in the protection of transgender rights. In 2006, the Illinois Human Rights Act was expanded to add the LGBTQ community, with the inclusion of gender identity as a protected class. This made Illinois one of the first states in the nation to explicitly provide for the protection of the rights of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals to be free from discrimination.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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