In a major win for transgender individuals across the country, the Supreme Court has declined to take up the case involving a trans man who was denied a needed surgery because of his gender identity. By denying to hear the case, the court decided his discrimination lawsuit against the hospital could move forward — a move that could help to set legal precedent in similar cases in the future.
The Advocate’s Trudy Ring reported that on Monday, Nov. 1, “the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a California Catholic hospital being sued over denial of care to a transgender man.”
According to Ring, “the high court’s action leaves intact the California Court of Appeals’ ruling that Evan Minton can go forward with his case against the hospital. Whether the hospital actually committed illegal discrimination has yet to be decided.”
The court’s decision to decline the case without comment is a common procedure. Usually, it means the justices agree with the previous verdict and don’t feel a new trial to confirm the previous judgment is necessary. Six of the nine judges said hearing the case was unnecessary; three justices — all conservative — said they would have taken it on.
Minton’s case originated when administrators at Mercy San Juan Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Sacramento, California, decided to cancel a hysterectomy he had scheduled shortly after they learned of his gender identity. In court documents, hospital officials called the procedure “elective sterilization” and claimed that performing it would go against the organization’s Catholic beliefs.
“Minton had the hysterectomy three days later at a Methodist hospital that was part of the same chain, Dignity Health, but farther away for him,” Ring reported. “Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Covington & Burling, he sued Dignity, the fifth-largest health care system in the U.S. and the largest operator of hospitals in California, alleging discrimination in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.”
“Dignity Health regularly performs the medical procedure sought by Minton for patients who are not transgender, and Minton’s doctor at Mercy San Juan Medical Center has said this is the first time the hospital has prevented her from doing this surgery,” ACLU said in a statement. “It was clear that the surgery was canceled because Minton is transgender.”
“Since Dignity Health turned me away for being transgender, I’ve had multiple medical emergencies, and I can’t stand to go to my neighboring Dignity Hospital because of the discrimination I was put through,” Minton said. “In one instance, I called my doctor and had them talk me through a procedure I performed on myself to avoid having to go into one of their hospitals.”
In Minton’s initial trial, a jury ruled that he had not been discriminated against under state law. However, an appeals court judge hearing the case disagreed, saying that the man had clear grounds for a lawsuit and said the case could move forward. Dignity Health and Mercy San Juan attempted to appeal that decision in the case the Supreme Court refused to hear. In their court documents, the group claimed that Minton’s suit “poses a profound threat to faith-based health care institutions’ ability to advance their healing ministries consistent with the teachings of their faith.”
After hearing news of the Supreme Court’s decision, Minton released a celebratory statement through the ACLU, saying, “I hope Dignity Health will finally take responsibility for what they did to me and what they continue to do. I applaud transgender Californians and people across the country who are sharing their denial-of-care experiences. This [discrimination] should not be our private pain and shame. We desexrve health care. We deserve restroom access. We deserve to play on sports teams. We deserve better. With my community by my side, I look forward to carrying on in this fight for justice.”
Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, added to Minton’s statement, telling The Advocate that “Dignity Health is trying to claim it’s an LGBTQ-friendly organization, but when Evan needed care, he was turned away because he is transgender. It’s wrong that anyone would be turned away from health care because of who they are, and when a health care provider denies care to a population they claim to serve, that’s hypocrisy. Our work does not stop with this case. Trans people belong everywhere, and we will continue to fight alongside the trans community for health care access.”