DES MOINES, Iowa — A prison nurse who identifies as a man has filed a discrimination complaint against the Iowa Department of Corrections alleging that she was not permitted to use the men’s facilities and that she was not provided with insurance coverage for a sex change operation.
According to reports, Jesse Vroegh, 34, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2014 and informed her employers at Iowa Correctional Institution for Women that she would be transitioning into a man.
“I requested that my employer establish policies related to issues affecting transgender employees but nothing happened,” Vroegh explained during a press conference on Thursday.
Last November, she asked for permission to use the mens’ restroom, but was denied due to concerns about “the rights of the male officers.” Vroegh was asked to instead use a unisex restroom, but the restroom didn’t include a shower, so she says she wasn’t able to shower at work, including this past April after being pepper sprayed during a training.
“I asked to be able to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms like my male co-workers, but instead I was forced to use a separate facility from everyone else and denied the use of a shower entirely,” she said.
Vroegh additionally sought to have her breasts removed, but discovered that the state does not include sex change operations in employee insurance packages.
Therefore, she filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleging discrimination. The document alleges that the Department of Corrections violated her rights “by denying me access to male restrooms and locker rooms and insurance coverage for medically necessary surgery and other medical treatment because of my sex and 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.”
The Department of Corrections says that it cannot comment on the case at this time, but did remark in a statement, “As a very important part the Department of Corrections mission, the Department strongly focuses to protect and treat with respect the public, staff and offenders.”