A transgender woman in New Hampshire has filed a discrimination complaint against her employer for denying her healthcare coverage for gender-affirming care.
Lillian Bernier, 31, has been an employee of New Hampshire-based manufacturing company Turbocam since 2019. She began transitioning in 2020. According to the complaint, filed on December 16 with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the company’s self-funded health coverage plan says that no benefits will be paid for “gender dysphoria treatment, including but not limited to, counseling, gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, and related preoperative and postoperative procedures, which, as their objective, change the person’s sex and any related complications.”
Bernier, the complaint says, suffers from gender dysphoria and requires hormone replacement therapy, counseling, and medically recommended surgeries. As a result of Turbocam’s refusal to cover gender-affirming care, Bernier said she has paid out of pocket for medical care and put off treatment.
The complaint alleges that the company and Health Plans Inc., which administers Turbocam’s health coverage plan, are violating employment nondiscrimination provisions of the New Hampshire Human Rights Act, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I’m proud of my work as a machinist at Turbocam,” Bernier said. “Like everyone else I rely on the pay and healthcare coverage from my job to support myself and my family. I’m just asking for fair coverage and to be treated the same as my coworkers.”
“It’s frustrating and overwhelming not to be treated equally and not to receive the full benefits my coworkers do,” she said in a statement. “I’m paying into the employee health plan like everyone else, but I have to pay completely out-of-pocket on top of that for my healthcare, which is a stress on me and my family. I take pride in my job and work hard, but no matter how much extra effort I put in, I’m not getting the full benefit of my work.”
Bernier’s lawyer, Chris Erchull, of GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, said that she is simply asking “to be treated with the same dignity, humanity, and fairness as other employees of the company.”
“By maintaining a blanket exclusion of coverage for any health care related to transgender transition, the company is providing Lillian and any other transgender employees, presently or in the future, a lesser tier of benefits,” Erchull said. “It sends a message that her healthcare needs are not legitimate.”
“Turbocam sees Lillian and all employees as created in God’s image and is providing as much support as possible consistent with its Mission, faith, and the law,” Jordan Pratt, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group representing Turbocam, said in a statement.
According to the company’s mission statement, Turbocam “exists as a business for the purpose of honoring God, creating wealth for its employees, and supporting Christian service to God and people.”
Pratt said that all Turbocam employees “have the option of taking a substantial cash bonus that they can use to choose any health insurance or medical services they desire. This should resolve the issue.”
But Erchull called the bonus a “red herring” and said that it is “insufficient to purchase other coverage.”
“A company like Turbocam does not have a legally protected right to provide lesser benefits to transgender employees simply because of the owner’s religious belief,” Erchull said.
In a statement, Health Plans Inc. said that “While we understand and empathize with the issues raised by GLAD, this employee is not insured by Health Plans Inc.” According to the statement, Health Plans Inc. processes health benefit claims for employers, but Turbocam has control over its health plan design and benefits.
As the Associated Press notes, depending on how the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission’s investigation proceeds, Bernier’s complaint could evolve into a lawsuit in state or federal court.