Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Transgender man files discrimination charge against local company

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need. - COURTESY OF THE ACLU OF COLORADO
  • Courtesy of the ACLU of Colorado
  • Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need.

At 31, Dashir Moore left his family and friends behind in Atlanta for a new life in Colorado Springs. His dream? "To unapologetically be myself."

Moore had heard Colorado's health care system was more inclusive of transgender people than Georgia's, so he got a job at Innosource, an employment agency in Colorado Springs, and scheduled a gender transition surgery that he believed was covered by his employer-provided insurance policy.

On May 21 of last year, Moore went through the surgery. But two days later, he says, he got the news that turned his world upside down: The insurance company had refused to pay for his operation, and he would be obligated to cover nearly $30,000 in hospital bills himself.
"I was just heartbroken," Moore says. "My worst fear basically happened."

Since then, Moore has left Innosource for a different job in Colorado Springs, which pays $5 to $6 less an hour, he says, adding up to an annual salary less than the cost of his surgery. He paid some of the surgery's cost on a payment plan, but as larger bills started rolling in, he could no longer afford them — and has been hit with collections and notices, while the state of his credit means he "can't get approved for anything."

"If I wanted to leave my apartment, I'm stuck," Moore says.

Moore's best hope right now rests with two powerful allies — The American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, who have filed a discrimination charge against Innosource on his behalf.

The ACLU is alleging that insurance carve-outs for transition-related care are illegal, based on state and federal law that prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.

"Our state anti-discrimination in employment statutes ... prohibit discrimination against employees in the provision of benefits," says Sara Neel, Moore's attorney. "Your health insurance is a benefit associated with your employment, and therefore the employers, we would argue, cannot discriminate against transgender individuals in the provision of health care."

While President Donald Trump's administration has reportedly proposed defining "sex" in a way that excludes transgender people from federal anti-discrimination laws, Colorado law passed in 2008 strengthened protections by explicitly including transgender status under sexual orientation, a protected class. And most transition-related health care, including surgical procedures, is covered by Colorado's Medicaid program.

According to a statement from the ACLU, Moore's employer-provided plan "categorically excluded coverage for anything related to gender transition including 'treatment, drugs, medicines, services, and supplies for, or leading to, gender transition surgery.' The exclusion applied to all transition-related care, including care that is medically necessary and otherwise would be covered under the plan."

What's more: "Prior to his surgery, Mr. Moore completed the necessary pre-op consultation at Denver Health as well as the insurance verification process. He contacted his claims administrator to confirm the surgery would be covered and was assured that it would be."

Neel says she doesn't know of a case like Moore's in which a private employer was successfully charged with discrimination related to health coverage (though a 2016 case challenged Wisconsin's ban on transition-related coverage for state employees). Depending on the outcome of the case, it could make waves nationally.
"The goal in this case is really, obviously, to get Mr. Moore compensated for what he's been required to pay or is being required to pay, and then also to get the employer to change their policy," Neel says."...And to continue to set precedent, because we do believe the law is on our side."

The first step in the process was to file a discrimination charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which will investigate the charge. If a resolution is not reached between Moore and Innosource as a result of the investigation, he could then choose to file a lawsuit, Neel says.

In the meantime, Moore's taking it day by day. Since the denial, he's been prescribed antidepressants and wonders what someone with less mental strength would do in the same situation, in a society where suicide rates for transgender people dwarf those of the general population.

While Moore is open about his transgender status with those close to him, he's not used to talking about it with his employers, much less strangers. He decided to go public with his story in hopes of saving others from the emotional pain and economic uncertainty he's endured for the past year, hundreds of miles from the friends and family he left in Atlanta.

"All the things that I hoped to accomplish by having surgery were kind of erased by the denial," Moore says. "Any moments of joy that I was supposed to have, I didn’t have that."

"...I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else."

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