The workplace discrimination settlement is being hailed as “historic” by the American Civil Liberties Union.
On Wednesday, jurors awarded a six-figure settlement to a transgender nurse denied use of the men’s restrooms and lockers in an Iowa state prison.
The New York Times report that the case began in 2015, when Jesse Vroegh asked his employers at the state Department of Corrections to let him use male hygienic facilities. He was already in the process of transitioning from female to male.
However, the department denied his requests. Citing concerns about the “rights of male officers,” the agency refused to issue any decision on a matter as “controversial” as transgender affairs.
But jurors decided differently on Wednesday, awarding Vroegh $120,000 for workplace discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. The award includes damages for being denied insurance payouts for gender reassignment surgery.
Vroegh told the Times he was “astonished” by the decision, which some are proclaiming “historic.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Vreogh in the suit, said the case is the first to be fought over transgender rights in Iowa since 2007. ACLU attorney Melissa Hasso said the settlement marks “an historic day for transgender Iowans, their friends and families.”
Vroegh, note the Associated Press, began working at a women’s prison in Mitchellville in 2009. Employed as a registered nurse, Vroegh was treated as female and used the women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.
In 2014, Vroegh told supervisors that he’d been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Within a year, he’d begun asking the department to develop policies for transgender employees, including bathroom provisions.
Facility warden Patti Wachtendorf denied Vroegh’s requests. The Associated Press says the warden didn’t want to interfere with the rights of male workers, who may have felt uncomfortable on account of Vroegh.
Trying to find a compromise, Wachtendorf designated two bathrooms as gender-neutral and said Mitchellville wouldn’t implement any additional protections or provisions for transgender employees.
But that wasn’t enough for Vroegh, who argued that the accommodations were akin to discrimination—both gender-neutral bathrooms were located in another building, forcing the nurse to walk outside and clear security.
Along with facing roadblocks at work, Wellmark, which provides health insurance plans for state employees, refused to cover Vroegh’s chest reduction surgery.
Wednesday’s settlement affirms that Vroegh was discriminated against at Mitchellville and by Wellmark, which wouldn’t disburse insurance benefits.
“It makes me happy and proud that they recognized that I should be treated equally by my employer and with health care coverage,” Vreogh said in a statement. “This whole lawsuit process has been difficult and emotionally very trying […] But I do it because it’s important for all the transgender Iowans who come after me.”