UGA employee says settlement is step forward for transgender rights

A transgender University of Georgia employee and his legal team are hailing a lawsuit settlement they hope will encourage employers to expand health care benefits to transgender workers statewide.

The UGA worker, who goes by the name Skyler Jay, said he was denied reimbursement for a May 2017 surgery to treat gender dysphoria, described by medical organizations as a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which the person identifies.

Jay said University System of Georgia leaders denied his request to discuss the dispute. Jay's legal team filed a lawsuit in June 2018.

Under the settlement, transgender employees in the University System are covered for medically necessary expenses. It removes exclusions for sex change services and supplies and drugs for sex change surgeries. The University System does not track how many employees are transgender. The changes took effect Sept. 1, about three weeks before the case was closed.

“It outraged me,” Jay said in a telephone interview Tuesday of the prior rules. “I’m glad something could be done about it.”

The University System said in a statement it was a “a mutually agreeable resolution with our employee and the applicable exclusions have been removed” by its health care providers.

Noah E. Lewis, one of Jay’s attorneys, said employees in many state and local governments do not get similar benefits, which they hope will change as a result of the settlement.

“The war is far from over in the way of change that must be made in this country for the Trans community,” Jay wrote Tuesday in an Instagram post. “But this is a huge battle won for Trans folks at large and specifically in the state of Georgia.”

Jay, 32, a catering and banquets manager at UGA, began working there in 2013 after enrolling as a female student in 2009. Jay publicly came out as a man and socially transitioned from female to male.

Jay will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages as part of the settlement.