Posted on September 14, 2020
By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The result of that ruling landed in Montana last week.
On August 14, an Administrative Law Judge with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry found Yellowstone County unlawfully discriminated against a transgender woman during her time as an employee with Yellowstone County. According to the ruling, the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA) protects transgender individuals under the category of gender identity. The Court found health care plans cannot categorically exclude coverage for gender affirming care, meaning that an employer may not deny medically necessary health care to employees solely because of their transgender status.
The Court held: “the Plan’s ‘sexual reassignment’ exclusion violates the MHRA because it denies coverage to those of transgender status on the basis of sex.”
What formed the foundation for the case: Eleanor Andersen Maloney, a transgender woman, filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau in 2018 claiming she was denied gender-affirming healthcare under Yellowstone County’s Health Insurance Plan when she was employed by the county. Maloney claims that Yellowstone County’s health plan singles out transgender employees for unequal treatment by categorically excluding all coverage for medically necessary gender affirming care. The County had denied all of her requests, and even denied payments for Eleanor’s therapeutic counseling – a service that was covered until the County found out that the sessions were for treatment of gender dysphoria.
What this means for Montana employers: The June SCOTUS ruling in Bostock made clear courts are going to be handling cases with an eye to treating transgender individuals as a “protected class” under Title VII. This Montana case follows Bostock and goes one step further in making clear that the Montana Human Rights Act statutes protect transgender and non-binary individuals. This means that transgender and non-binary Montanans are protected against discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, education and finance. This case also signals how courts in the 9th circuit will be interpreting and applying the Bostock ruling.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.