Yellowstone County may have discriminated against one of its deputy county attorneys when it denied her access to health care last year.
The Montana Human Rights Bureau said recently that Yellowstone County had unlawfully denied Eleanor Andersen Maloney, a transgender woman, "gender-affirming health care."
Maloney had begun exploring health care options after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria while employed by the county. She was a prosecutor working child abuse and neglect cases.
Maloney resigned from the county attorney's office last summer. She's since moved to western Montana, where she works for a nonprofit organization that provides support and legal help to battered women and children.
"I loved my job with the county," she said. "I love what I do; I love being a prosecutor."
Last spring while she was still employed by the county, Maloney was working to understand her diagnosis and figure out her best way forward, whether that meant surgery or some other treatment or option.
"I was working with various therapists," she said.
If she elected to get surgery, it would mean she'd need to meet with a surgeon and eventually set a date for a procedure. The wait list for many of these procedures are years long.
While Maloney wasn't sure that was the best treatment option for her, she knew it would be important to at least get on the wait list in case that's what her best option became.
"It was way more open than asking for something specific," she said.
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The county denied her request, citing its health insurance plan that excludes "services or supplies related to sexual reassignment and reversal of such procedures."
Citing the same policy, the county also sought a return of payments from Maloney's therapist for the counseling sessions she had received related to gender dysphoria.
Mental health treatment is covered under the county's insurance plan, but it stipulates that treatment must be for "recognized mental illness; and the treatment must be reasonably expected to improve or restore the level of functioning that has been affected by the mental illness," according to the complaint documents.
In the complaint, Yellowstone County "maintains there is no federal or state law designating transgender as a protected class, therefore, Maloney has no viable claim of discrimination."
In its finding, the Montana Human Rights Bureau wrote that, "if an insurance product carves out medical procedures, relying only on a person's status as transgender as the determinative criterion, this is a distinction based on sex and it violates the Montana Human Rights Act's insurance provision."
Maloney compares it to changing religions. A company can hire her, learn of her religion and tell her it's not a problem because religion is a protected class under the law. If she comes to work the next day, tells her employer she's converted to some other religion and is then fired, she's going to question her employer.
If the employer tells her she wasn't fired because she's now a different religion, rather she was fired because she converted, Maloney said that's still discrimination. She sees her gender discrimination complaint in the same light.
With the finding, Yellowstone County now has 30 days to respond. If the two sides are unable to reconcile the complaint, it then moves on the Hearings Bureau for a formal hearing.
Calls to the county's human resources department Wednesday afternoon were not returned.