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$120,000 Iowa Jury Award Over Discrimination Against Transgender Prison Nurse

On February 13, 2019, an Iowa jury awarded former Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) prison nurse Jesse Vroegh $120,000 for workplace discrimination against transgender individuals.

Vroegh, then 32, had been working at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women for five years as a registered nurse when he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2014.

He notified the DOC that he would began his social transition to male at work and asked that they establish a policy regarding transgender individuals, including restroom and locker-room use. His requests to use the men's restroom were denied, citing concerns about “the rights of male officers.” The request to establish a policy for transgender people was denied as “too controversial.” He was told he could use a unisex restroom located in another building. He also was denied health-care coverage for gender reassignment surgery. In 2016, Vroegh “involuntarily” resigned.

Aided by Des Moines attorney Melissa C. Basso and Rita Bettis, the ACLU of Iowa and the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, Vroegh filed a lawsuit in state court, alleging violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code Chapter 216, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sex. The issues raised included restroom discrimination and discrimination in the denial of insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery. Following a trial, the jury awarded Vroegh $100,000 for the restroom/locker room discrimination and $20,000 for discrimination by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services in the denial of health insurance coverage benefits.

“I was astonished,” said Vroegh, who is now a nursing director at a rehabilitation center. See: Vroegh v. Iowa Department of Corrections, et al. Iowa Dist. Ct. (Polk Co.), Case No. LACL138797.
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Related legal case

Vroegh v. Iowa Department of Corrections, et al.