Connor Thonen-Fleck, 16, along with his parents speaking at a press conference announcing the lawsuit in front of the Federal Courthouse in Durham.

Lambda Legal and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund on Monday, March 11, filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina officials for discrimination in state employee health care. Lambda Legal and TLDEF are representing several current and former North Carolina state employees and their children denied coverage for medically necessary health care under the North Carolina State Health Plan, which categorically excludes coverage for gender-confirming health care.

Julia McKeown, an assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s College of Education, said that in 2018, when she was “finally in a position to move forward with surgical care, an important part of my transition,” she had to pay for treatment herself because the state employee insurance plan would not cover the surgery.

“I did not expect I would have to raid my retirement and savings accounts for treatment prescribed by my doctors, when other state employees would be covered for the same procedures,” McKeown said. “It is demeaning and fundamentally unfair.”

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Taylor Brown said all the plaintiffs were denied coverage “because they are transgender or they have children who are transgender.”

Taylor also noted that the plan did cover “medically necessary gender-confirming health care” in 2017. But when Dale Folwell took office as state treasurer, he revoked the coverage.

“This is clearly unlawful discrimination that jeopardizes the health of hardworking state employees and their families,” Taylor said. “It stigmatizes them and brands them as second-class. I am a transgender woman, born and raised in North Carolina and an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill. This kind of targeted discrimination is shameful to me personally and it does not represent the true values of this state or North Carolinians.”

TDLEF Senior Staff Attorney Noah E. Lewis said that the decision to revoke coverage for trans employees “puts the state of North Carolina on the wrong side of history,” adding that the state “otherwise provides excellent health care benefits, so it’s a real betrayal to have the state unfairly turn its back on its own employees and their families who face pressing health care needs.”

Michael D. Bunting Jr., an employee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has a 13-year-old transgender son, said, “Every dad wants to be able to ensure his child can get the medical care they need. It’s frustrating and disappointing to think that I work just as hard as any of my coworkers, but the coverage I receive for my family is not the same as theirs because my son is transgender.”

The five plaintiffs represented in this lawsuit in addition to McKeown and Bunting are: Max Kadel, a 36-year-old trans man employed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Jason Fleck, an employee of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his 16-year-old transgender son, Connor; and Sam Silvaine, a 30-year-old former North Carolina State University employee.

The lawsuit argues that North Carolina officials are violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act, by unlawfully discriminating based on sex and transgender status.