Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mom cannot sue employer for discrimination against her son, court says

Brittany Tovar claimed that her employer, Essentia Health, discriminated against her when her employer-sponsored medical insurance denied her son gender reassignment services and surgery.

In Tovar v. Essentia Health (D. Minn. 5/11/16), the court had little issue dismissing Tovar’s claims because the alleged target of the discrimination, her son, was not an employee protected by Title VII:

There are no allegations that Tovar herself is transgender or was denied health benefits…, let alone denied benefits because of her sex. Instead, she assumes the discrimination against her transgender son was also discrimination against her. This assumption confuses the true target because it was not Tovar who was discriminated against; it was her son (a non-employee and non-party) who was the sole object of the discrimination. This does not support a claim of discrimination.… 
Tovar has alleged no … discriminatory conduct or adverse action taken by Essentia against her. Instead, she argues “she is entitled to the full enjoyment of the privileges of her employment, including access to and use of her health care benefits equal to that of other employees.” Yet, there are no facts in the Complaint to support that she was ever personally denied the benefits or privileges of her employment or personally experienced anything less than full coverage of the benefits provided.
This holding is very different from Thompson v. North Am. Stainless, in which the Supreme Court recognized a claim for “associational retaliation.” In that case, both the complaining employee and the terminated employee were both employees, and the alleged discriminatory action was against an employee. In Tovar, the alleged victim of the discrimination was not an employee.

So, what does this case mean? Title VII protects employees, not non-employees, even if the non-employee is closely related to an employee. Title VII prohibits adverse employment actions, not adverse actions against those related to employees.