Federal Lawsuit Filed Against NJ Catholic Hospital That Denied Care to Transgender Man
Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Paterson, New Jersey, after the hospital refused to allow Jionni Conforti’s surgeon to perform a routine hysterectomy because Jionni is transgender. The lawsuit cites the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which clearly prohibits discrimination because of sex and gender identity, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
“No hospital should be allowed to decide who their patients are, particularly when they receive government funds. Denying care to someone at their time of need because of their sex or gender identity is not only dangerous and humiliating, it’s against the law,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “In the United States, one in six hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals. These health care providers must comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws so that the health of LGBT people who walk through their doors is not endangered.”
On the advice of his doctor, Jionni decided to undergo a hysterectomy as medically necessary treatment for his gender dysphoria and based on his possibly increased risk of cancer. Although hospital personnel initially confirmed that scheduling a hysterectomy as treatment for gender dysphoria would be no problem, Jionni later learned there might be an issue with scheduling the procedure and sought confirmation from hospital leadership.
On June 16, 2015, Father Martin D. Rooney sent an email to Jionni stating: “This is to follow up to your e-mail inquiring about scheduling a total hysterectomy here at St. Joseph’s to remove all female parts based on the medical necessity for Gender Reassignment. This is to inform you that as a Catholic Hospital we would not be able to allow your surgeon to schedule this surgery here at St. Joseph’s.”
Jionni’s original surgeon, Dr. Brian Day, only has surgical admitting privileges at St. Joseph’s, so the denial of treatment meant that Jionni had to find a new surgeon and start the process all over again.
“This is my neighborhood hospital. My whole family has been treated here and this is the hospital where I would be taken by ambulance in an emergency and they discriminated against me,” said Conforti. “I am shocked and saddened by the treatment I received and I am afraid of how I would be treated if I need medical care again. St. Joseph’s Healthcare who says it prides itself on a ‘patients first’ approach, completely disrespected who I am as a person and that is not how a hospital should treat people.”
Lambda Legal also represents Jessica Hicklin, a transgender woman who is incarcerated in a Missouri prison where she is being denied hormone treatment despite orders from her doctor prescribing the treatment. Lambda Legal has successfully advocated for people who are transgender after their insurance providers refused to cover treatment for gender dysphoria.
The lawsuit,Conforti v. St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and names as defendants St. Joseph’s Healthcare System, Inc., St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center d/b/a St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, and Father Martin D. Rooney. Fifteen percent of hospitals in New Jersey are Catholic hospitals.
The case is being litigated by Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Transgender Rights Project Attorney Demoya Gordon. In addition to Gonzalez-Pagan and Gordon, attorneys for Conforti include Christopher Cook, Jane M. Byrne, Todd Anten, David Farber, and Molly Webster of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP.