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Ex-Unified detective says he was fired because he’s transgender

Department’s health insurance discriminates in failing to cover gender-affirming surgery, suit says

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The federal courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

The federal courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. A former Unified police detective has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming he was discriminated against and fired for being transgender.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Unified detective is suing Salt Lake County’s police agency, alleging he endured yearslong harassment and lost his job there in large part because he is transgender.

Taylor Scruggs, who had been with the department since 2005, also says the agency’s insurance plan singles out transgender employees and unlawfully denies them coverage for gender-affirming surgery.

Scruggs is suing to get his job back and for damages to be awarded at trial. His lawsuit filed last week in Salt Lake City’s federal court also seeks to bar Unified and its insurance provider, Utah Retirement Systems, from treating others the same way.

“We’re not looking for special rights. We’re simply looking for equal rights,” said Scruggs’ attorney Jillian Weiss.

When Scruggs came out as transgender and began expressing his male identity in 2015, Scruggs said he believed his colleagues accepted him. The gender-neutral bathroom and locker room he was promised never came to fruition; neither did the departmentwide training he requested on gender dysphoria and transitioning, the suit says.

Unified spokeswoman Melody Gray said the agency disputes the allegations and will respond in court, but declined further comment.

In 2017, his boss and a new immediate supervisor would not talk to Scruggs or offer help like they did to other detectives, Scruggs says. The new supervisor made fun of his appearance, assigned him busy work and alleged he was less productive than other detectives. But Scruggs pointed out he’d had recent successes like finding five stolen cars and identifying a federal fugitive.

Moreover, Scruggs alleges the supervisor made fun of his appearance and clothes, while co-workers snickered at him during weekly meetings and put a “men only” sign on the bathroom door.

When Scruggs complained to his boss about the supervisor, he was called into a meeting with the supervisor, who said, “If I ignore you, I don’t have to worry about making a mistake” and said that he did not understand “the transgender thing.”

As his work stress intensified, Scruggs developed insomnia, severe depression and an alcohol addiction in 2017. He sought help but his drinking worsened, and his bosses never referred his request for help through a peer support program, he alleges.

Meanwhile, Scruggs continued to take steps to schedule a gender-affirming procedure and set a date with his surgeon for April 2018. But when he asked insurance to preauthorize the surgery, it denied the request, saying the plan does not cover “gender reassignment surgery.” While it covers genital surgery for other conditions, it excludes such treatments for the purpose of gender transition, the suit says.

Brian Holland, with the state insurance agency, said it had not yet seen the suit and did not immediately have a comment.

Scruggs says he checked into a rehab for alcohol addiction at the urging of his therapist in July 2018 but was called into work and written up for sick leave abuse and demoted to a patrol officer. While the department has taken good care of other officers dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues, Weiss said her client was punished for seeking help.

In September 2018, Scruggs had an adverse reaction to new medicine and called the UNI psychiatric hospital, threatened to kill himself and threatened his boss and supervisor, his suit says.

Then in November, his attorney filed paperwork to appeal the insurance decision and sent a letter to an attorney for Unified saying the surgery was unlawfully denied. A week later, he was told he would lose his job and was formally terminated in March 2019.

No hearings in the case had been set in U.S. District Court as of Friday.