A trans nurse working in a prison hospital was left unable to shower after being covered with pepper spray – because he wasn’t able to use the same bathroom as his colleagues.
Jesse Vroegh’s request to use the right bathroom had been turned down because it was ‘too controversial’.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
The transgender nurse says the discrimination is even worse because it was carried out by the state of Iowa itself.
It happened at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) where Vroegh has been a staff nurse for seven years.
He announced he was transitioning and living full-time as male, as part of his treatment for gender dysphoria and related depression and anxiety.
But Voregh said his employer refused to allow him to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching his gender identity.
‘In this country and in Iowa, everyone should be treated fairly in the workplace — especially when your employer is the state,’ Vroegh said in a statement.
‘Rather than setting a good example for other Iowa employers, the state has denied me the use of gendered spaces as well as the health insurance coverage I need, simply because I am transgender.
‘I hope my fight for fairness in the workplace will make a difference for the many other transgender people who have faced similar discrimination at work.’
Vroegh said after he informed his employer of his transition in March 2014, he asked them to develop trans friendly policies.
But when the nurse asked his supervisor about beginning to use the male bath and locker rooms in October 2015, no policies had been made.
A month later he spoke to the ICIW’s warden, Patti Wachtendorf, medical director Dr Harbans Deol and Todd Givens, a representative of Vreogh’s union, about using single-sex spaces.
They denied his request, out of concern for ‘the rights of the male officers’, the complaint states.
In April 2016, the warden informed Vroegh there would not be a policy for trans employees because it would be ‘too controversial’.
But being forced to use the unisex bathrooms doesn’t just isolate Vroegh from his colleagues and aggravates his gender dysphoria.
In one case, he was stopped from having a shower even though that put his health at risk.
‘Following a chemical agent training in which I and other staff members were sprayed with pepper spray, all staff were allowed to shower immediately afterward to remove the chemical agent,’ Vroegh’s complaint claims.
‘Because my employer has denied me access to the men’s shower facilities made available to other male employees, I could not shower to remove the chemical agent until I got home.’
He later had to seek medical treatment for painful, continuing headaches.
Vroegh’s employer-sponsored medical insurance provider, Wellmark Blue Cross, are also subject of the complaint for refusing to cover medically necessary treatment, with similar treatment provided for non-trans employees.
Iowa is one of 18 states expressively offering protection against workplace discrimination.
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