News (USA)

Federal judge rules Catholic hospital discriminated against transgender man

Jesse Hammons
Jesse HammonsPhoto: ACLU

A federal judge has ruled that a Catholic hospital discriminated against a transgender man when it refused to perform a gender-affirming procedure.

Jesse Hammons sued the University of Maryland Medical System, which owns St. Joseph Medical Center, after the facility canceled a hysterectomy in January 2020. Hammons’s doctor, Steven Adashek, had approved the procedure to treat his gender dysphoria. But St. Joseph’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gail Cunningham, later informed Adashek that the procedure could not be performed at the hospital because it conflicted with the facility’s religious directives.

“We cannot do transgender surgery at St. [Joseph],” Cunningham told Adashek, according to court records.

Hammons received a hysterectomy at another hospital months later after undergoing an additional round of preoperative tests.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled that St. Joseph’s had discriminated against Hammons on the basis of sex under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA prohibits providers receiving federal funding from discriminating on the “basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex” and includes provisions for “pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.”

St. Joseph’s, which is owned by a state institution—the University of Maryland—subject to constitutional non-discrimination requirements, receives federal Medicaid and Medicare funding. The hospital performs hysterectomies for cisgender women as prescribed treatment for medical conditions, and thus discriminated against Hammons on the basis of sex when it refused to perform the procedure, which was prescribed to treat his gender dysphoria.

As Gay City News notes, numerous federal courts have concluded that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition.

According to court documents, Cunningham testified that “the fact that it was a gender transition treatment… was enough to deny [permission to perform the surgery].”

“This court has determined that undisputed facts establish that, as a matter of law, Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his sex,” Chasanow wrote.

“We’re thankful the court saw through a transparently discriminatory and harmful action by UMMS,” Joshua Block, senior staff attorney for the ACLU which represented Hammons, wrote in a news release. “The government has no business operating a religious hospital, much less do they have the right to deny transgender patients care they routinely provide to cisgender patients.”

“This is a great win for myself and all transgender people denied equal treatment because of who they are,” said Hammons. “All I wanted was for UMMS to treat my health care like anyone else’s, and I’m glad the court recognized how unfair it was to turn me away. I’m hopeful UMMS can change this harmful policy and help more transgender people access the care they need.”

Following the ruling, Michael Schwartzberg, senior director of media relations at the University of Maryland Medical System, released a statement saying that UM and St. Joseph’s were reviewing Chasanow’s decision.

“We dispute many of the conclusions that were reached in this decision and may be in a position to comment further after additional analysis of the ruling,” the statement read. “Legal disagreements aside, we sincerely wish the very best for Mr. Hammons and we support his efforts to seek the highest quality healthcare. We may disagree on certain technical, legal points but compassion for the patients we serve remains foundational to our work.”

“This legal claim stems directly from, and is traceable to, a surgeon mistakenly scheduling a procedure that could not be performed at UM SJMC,” it continued. “Although our offer to perform gender-affirming surgery at a different location was declined by Mr. Hammons, the University of Maryland Medical System remains committed to meeting the unique medical needs of transgender individuals and patients who are routinely scheduled by physicians for appointments and procedures at UMMS member organizations.”

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