Transgender worker denied coverage alleges discrimination
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A transgender woman in New Hampshire filed a discrimination complaint Friday against the manufacturing company where she works as a machinist, challenging its exclusion of gender-transition health coverage.
The complaint against Barrington-based Turbocam, which makes parts for the HVAC, automotive, aviation and space exploration industries, asks the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission to investigate and cross-file it with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bernier is represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based advocacy group.
The complaint alleges that Turbocam and Health Plans Inc., which administers Turbocam’s self-funded health coverage plan, is violating employment nondiscrimination provisions of the New Hampshire Human Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I’m proud of my work as a machinist at Turbocam,” said the employee, Lillian Bernier, 31, who joined the company in 2019. She began transitioning in 2020. “Like everyone else I rely on the pay and healthcare coverage from my job to support myself and my family. I’m just asking for fair coverage and to be treated the same as my coworkers.”
Turbocam, which began in the 1980s, is a family-owned business with locations in Europe and Asia that employs over 900 engineers, machinists, technicians and support staff worldwide.
The company “exists as a business for the purpose of honoring God, creating wealth for its employees, and supporting Christian service to God and people,” according a mission statement from its president, Marian Noronha.
Jordan Pratt, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group representing Turbocam, said in a statement Friday that Bernier and all company employees “have the option of taking a substantial cash bonus that they can use to choose any health insurance or medical services they desire. This should resolve the issue.
“Turbocam sees Lillian and all employees as created in God’s image and is providing as much support as possible consistent with its Mission, faith and the law,” Pratt said.
Bernier’s attorney, Chris Erchull, said while business owners have a right to their beliefs, “a company like Turbocam cannot ignore or sidestep the law and deny equal employment benefits because she is transgender.”
He added, “The so-called bonus is a red herring. Available to Turbocam employees who do not need health benefits and it is insufficient to purchase other coverage.”
Health Plans Inc. also responded: “While we understand and empathize with the issues raised by GLAD, this employee is not insured by Health Plans Inc.” The company explained that it processes health benefit claims for employers, and that Turbocam has control over its health plan design and benefits.
The complaint says Bernier has gender dysphoria, the sense of unease that a person might have because their biological sex does not match their gender identity.
“She has needed, and continues to need, hormone replacement therapy, counseling, and medically recommended surgeries to treat her gender dysphoria,” the complaint said.
According to the complaint, the health plan says no benefits shall be paid for “gender dysphoria treatment, including but not limited to, counseling, gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, and related preoperative and postoperative procedures, which, as their objective, change the person’s sex and any related complications.”
The New Hampshire commission has the power to receive, investigate and make findings on complaints of illegal discrimination and to hold public hearings. Depending on how its investigation goes, the complaint could evolve into a lawsuit in state or federal court.