Alaska News

Federal judge rules in favor of Alaska librarian denied medical coverage for gender reassignment surgery

JUNEAU — An Alaska legislative librarian has won a federal case against the state of Alaska after alleging the state’s employee health care plan discriminated against transgender men and women.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland ruled in favor of Jennifer Fletcher, who sued in 2018 with the help of Anchorage attorneys and Lambda Legal, a national firm.

“This is such a wonderful sense of vindication,” Fletcher, who lives in Juneau, said Friday afternoon.

In his ruling, Holland said the state “adopted and relied upon a formal, facially discriminatory policy” when it decided to cover certain types of medically necessary surgery and not others.

“If plaintiff’s natal sex were female and it was medically necessary for her to have a vaginoplasty to correct a congenital defect, coverage would have been available under AlaskaCare,” Holland wrote. “But, because plaintiff’s natal sex is male and she was seeking to transition to a female, coverage was not available."

That amounted to discrimination based on sex, even without considering the question of gender identity, Holland concluded.

Tara Borelli, a Lambda Legal attorney representing Fletcher, said similar cases reached the same verdict in Wisconsin, and another case is pending in Arizona.

“The plaintiffs are prevailing in these cases because it is so clear that this is sex discrimination,” Borelli said.

Fletcher, who paid for surgery out of pocket, had sought unspecified “compensatory and consequential damages” as well attorneys’ fees and a change to the state’s practice.

“The key goal for our client is to make sure other people don’t have to suffer under this exclusion,” Borelli said.

Asked whether the state intends to appeal, an official said that “the Department of Law is reviewing the decision and has no comment at this time.”