By NIGEL DUARA
SALEM, Ore. – A national civil rights group has filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon, claiming it denied insurance coverage of a medical procedure for a transgendered state worker.
Lambda Legal filed the suit Tuesday in Marion County Circuit Court on behalf of Alec Esquivel, 42, a law school graduate who is an Oregon Court of Appeals clerk.
The legal group said Esquivel is a woman who is making the transition to a male gender identity, a process that began in 2001. As part of the transition-related health plan, Esquivel’s doctor recommended that Esquivel undergo a hysterectomy because of a heightened risk for uterine and ovarian cancer.
The case is part of the growing field of transgendered civil rights litigation. Other cases have been successfully argued against the LPGA and the Library of Congress, though Esquivel’s is different because it is seeking insurance coverage for a medical procedure.
Esquivel’s doctor submitted a request for insurance coverage that was denied last year. The lawsuit argues that Oregon’s antidiscrimination law prohibits an employer from denying insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity.
“We are asking the court to apply the same law to itself,” said Esquivel’s attorney, Dru Levasseur. “There should be no discrimination barriers to getting that care.”
Levasseur said the hysterectomy would be covered for a state employee under most other circumstances. But Esquivel’s principle reason for requesting the change-gender identity disorder-is not included in the list of qualified reasons.
Oregon Department of Justice spokesman Tony Green declined to comment, saying the state doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.
Lambda Legal represents civil-rights issues involving lesbian, gay and transgendered people. The group claimed one of its biggest victories in Varnum v. Brien, a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that held that same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry.
Civil rights litigation involving transgendered people has been growing since the middle of last decade.
In 2009, Diane Schroer, a retired Army Special Forces commander from Alexandria, Va., was awarded nearly $500,000 because she lost a job at the Library of Congress while undergoing a gender change from a man to a woman.
A suit from Lana Lawless, a transgender woman, led the LPGA and the Long Drivers of America to change their rule that competitors be “female at birth.”
Esquivel is seeking to have the state cover his medical care related to the hysterectomy, as well as $250,000 in damages and attorney fees.
“What I’m asking for is equal access to medical coverage,” Esquivel said.
In April 2010, according to the lawsuit, Esquivel’s doctor determined that the hysterectomy and a secondary procedure were medically necessary. Esquivel said Tuesday that his risk of cancer is heightened because of the hormone treatment he is undergoing.
Two months later, his request for insurance was denied and in December, Lambda Legal appealed the decision. That appeal was denied in April, and Esquivel filed the suit on Tuesday.
“I’ve always identified as a male,” Esquivel said. “Now, it’s just a matter of bringing my body in line with that.”