State's largest healthcare network sued for refusing to provide care to transgender man

News Release: 
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
ACLU-WA lawsuit alleges sex and gender discrimination by Swedish 

The ACLU of Washington today filed a lawsuit against Swedish Health Services and Providence Health & Services for refusing to provide a medically necessary surgery for a transgender man.  The suit says that the Defendants’ refusal is discrimination that violates Washington state law.
“When Swedish refused to treat me, it hurt me deeply, and disrupted my entire life,” plaintiff Ari Robbins said. “No one should be turned away from the health care they need—and that their doctor prescribed for them— simply because of who they are. I’m bringing this lawsuit so transgender people in Washington won’t have to go through what I did.”
Ari Robbins is a Seattle man who is transgender, meaning that while the sex assigned to him at birth was female, he has a male gender identity.  Robbins’s health care provider recommended chest reconstruction surgery and referred him to Dr. Mary Peters. Gender-confirming surgical procedures are recognized by every major medical organization as safe, necessary, and effective treatment for gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition marked by persistent distress caused by incongruence between an individual’s gender identity and their sex designated at birth.
Dr. Peters is a surgeon with Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics, a specialty clinic operated by Swedish Health Services that provides plastic surgery services. Since 2012, Swedish Health Services has been affiliated with Providence Health & Services, a non-profit Catholic network of hospitals and related health services and the largest health care provider in Washington.
Dr. Peters has performed chest reconstruction surgeries many times in her career as a surgeon. After consulting with Robbins and scheduling his surgery, Dr. Peters and Swedish inexplicably canceled his surgery, along with the appointments of several other transgender individuals. The lawsuit asserts that their refusal to provide surgery to Robbins simply because of who he is discriminates on the basis of sex and gender identity in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA), and is harmful to Mr. Robbins’s health.
“Treating transgender people differently than others is discrimination, and it is clearly illegal,” said ACLU-WA Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin. “Under state law, no healthcare provider is allowed to single out people based on their gender identity and exclude them from a surgery that is prescribed for them and that the provider routinely makes available to others.”
Discrimination by healthcare providers routinely causes transgender people to delay or forgo preventative and necessary medical care, putting them at greater risk for illnesses and increasing their risk of suicide.
If left untreated, gender dysphoria can lead to debilitating anxiety, depression, self-harm, and even suicide.
As a result of Swedish’s refusal to provide surgery prescribed to Robbins, he had to seek medical care in Idaho and was required to wait an additional five months for his surgery. The delay caused Robbins to experience severe emotional distress.
Robbins also suffered back and neck pain and acute headaches due to his needing to wear a chest binder, which restricted his ability to move freely and exercise. The delay affected his law school schedule and job prospects. Robbins had planned the timing of his surgery around his classes and summer internships, and was forced to delay the start of one of his internships because he had not healed from the surgery.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare Defendants’ refusal to provide surgery for Robbins discriminatory and illegal. It also seeks damages.
The lawsuit, Robbins v. Swedish Health Services, was filed in King County Superior Court. Providence Health Services operates more than 35 hospitals and various health and living facilities in Washington, and has more than 20,000 employees statewide.