During Tuesday’s hearing in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for Houston County and Talton asked the appeals court to overturn the lower court’s ruling, arguing that the employee health care plan bans several procedures and medications.
For example, hormone therapy prescribed for gender dysphoria — the diagnosis often given to people who are transgender — is covered by the county plan, but surgeries are not, said Patrick Lail, an attorney representing Houston County.
“(That) shows that transition care is treated here like many other conditions, such as care for weight issues, is generally covered, but care for lap band surgery is excluded,” Lail said.
Appeals Court Judge Charles Wilson cited a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said federal law prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender employees in the workplace.
“It’s clear that she is being denied medically necessary surgery solely based on the fact that she’s transgender,” Wilson said of Lange. “That’s clear here.”
David Brown, an attorney representing Lange, also based his argument on the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, which came in an unrelated Georgia case.
“The (Houston County) employee health plan covers medically necessary surgery,” Brown said. “Under it’s exclusion policy, it takes that coverage away from (Lange) because she is transgender. The exclusion here applies because of sex.”
Judge Andrew Brasher questioned whether the policy truly discriminated against transgender people.
Lange came out as a transgender woman in 2017 and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. After recommendations from her doctor, two psychologists and a surgeon, Lange determined she needed the operation.
In 2018, she began to seek coverage for the operation but was denied due to an exclusion in the county’s health plan that banned “services and supplies for a sex change.”
It is unclear when the appeals court will rule.
Lange told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she underwent the gender reassignment surgery following the district judge’s ruling in 2022. She said she’s confident the decision in her favor will be upheld.
“The law is on our side, clearly,” Lange said just after Tuesday’s hearing, which she attended.
Brown said outside the courtroom that Houston County had spent about $1.5 million fighting Lange’s civil rights case, which was much more than it would have spent covering her surgery. He told the AJC that the county’s discrimination against Lange is “clearly illegal, it’s clearly immoral, and it’s clearly expensive.”
Houston County officials did not immediately respond to questions about the case.