MADISON, Wis. – Two women said they have their faith renewed in humanity and the justice system after a jury ruling earlier this week.
A jury of eight is awarding the two University of Wisconsin employees $780,000 in damages following a federal judge’s ruling saying the state can’t ban insurance coverage of transgender health care including gender reassignment surgery.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the state employees, said in a release that this is one of the first times a jury has awarded damages related to the denial of health care.
“I really feel like I’m in a dream and haven’t woken up yet,” said Shannon Andrews, an associate researcher at UW’s Carbone Cancer Center and one of the plaintiffs.
She said it was hard for her to imagine her future with her struggles relating to being transgender.
“I struggled with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts most of my life,” she said.
Since her state insurance didn’t cover it, Andrews paid for her gender-affirming surgeries out-of-pocket, liquidating her retirement funds.
“I didn’t think I’d make it to retirement anyway,” she said. “This is what I need to get through today, I don’t have time to think about the future.”
Whether they knew it or not, Andrews and UW PhD candidate Alina Boyden had much more in store.
“The notion that this has gone as far as it did — We actually sat in a courtroom and had a jury trial – I think it’s a demonstration of how powerful it can be when you refuse to give up,” Andrews said.
“Now she’s the trans sister I never had growing up,” Boyden said.
Andrews and Boyden became friends when working with the ACLU on a lawsuit against the state, claiming its policy of not covering transgender treatments such as hormone therapy and gender transition surgery was discriminatory.
A federal judge ruled in their favor in September, and this week, jury members had their say on if the state’s actions caused enough harm for Andrews and Boyden to receive damages.
“The jury’s role is to decide, what the state did was wrong as the judge ruled, but how wrong was it?” Andrews said. “If it wasn’t that wrong I feared it would send the message to other states and this state to go ahead and discriminate against transgender people, and if you get sued, no big.”
The jury awarded just more than $780,000 in reimbursement for Andrews’ past surgeries and emotional distress to both.
“The jury’s verdict shows these people are deeply harmed if they don’t get health care,” Boyden said.
“It was very healing for me personally, and I’ll be thankful to those eight people for the rest of my life,” Andrews said. “It feels like I can actually think about the future again.”
The University of Wisconsin said it has no comment Saturday.
News 3 didn’t immediately hear back from the state.