Transgender State Employee Alleges Workplace Discrimination

Jul 21, 2016

A long-time employee at the Iowa Women’s Prison in Mitchellville has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity. 

According to the complaint, 34-year old Department of Corrections transgender nurse Jesse Vroegh is being denied access to male restrooms and locker rooms, but  is allowed to use unisex facilities instead.       

Rita Bettis with the ACLU of Iowa says since 2007, Iowa’s civil rights statute bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“All Iowans are entitled to fair and equal treatment in the workplace,” Bettis says. “That includes those who are transgender.”  

Eighteen other states also ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Bettis says the state of Iowa should be setting an example when it comes to workplace discrimination.

"But here it has done just the opposite,” Bettis says, “violating our client's right to nondiscrimination and employment under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and equal protection under the Iowa constitution.”

The complaint also names Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield for denying coverage for what is called medically necessary surgery. The Civil Rights Commission does not comment on complaints or even acknowledge they have been filed. The ACLU says it may be the first gender identity complaint filed by a  State of Iowa employee.

The Governor’s office also declined to comment on the personnel matter.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity,” says the governor’s spokesman, Ben Hammes, in a statement.

“The state has denied me the use of gendered spaces as well as the health insurance coverage I need, simply because I am transgender,” Vroegh says in a statement. Vroegh says limiting him to unisex facilities prevents him from showering at work and isolates him from his fellow employees.

Depending on action by the Civil Rights Commission, Vroegh could bring a lawsuit in district court.