After rulings on several cases in other courts expanded the reach of Title VII claims, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Tovar v. Essentia Health to limit further expansion.

The court dismissed a sex discrimination claim brought against an employer, stating Title VII exists to protect employees from their employers; immediate family of employees have no standing to sue under Title VII.

Brittany Tovar began working for Essentia Health in 2010. As part of her employee benefits, she received health insurance through her employer. Four years later, Tovar’s son was added to her plan as a beneficiary. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, with doctors deeming gender reassignment surgery medically-necessary. Essentia Health, however, did not cover “services and/or surgery for gender reassignment” in its 2015 medical plan. When Tovar sought pre-authorization for her son’s gender reassignment surgery, she was denied.

Tovar sued Essentia for alleged violation of Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Under Title VII, an employer is prohibited from discriminating "against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). To the same end, the MHRA makes it unlawful for an employer, because of sex, to discriminate against a person with respect to terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Minn. Stat. § 363A.08, subd. 2(3).

Tovar claimed that Essentia Health discriminated against her son and her work performance decreased as a result. Tovar viewed Essentia’s actions as a form of sex discrimination. The court, however, rejected Tovar’s claim.

Title VII and MHRA prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees based on their own protected characteristics. Tovar’s son, who was not an employee of Essentia Health, therefore had no basis to maintain a discrimination action, regardless of his sex or protected status. Under Title VII and MHRA, only an employee is protected from discrimination and able to bring a claim against an employer.

This Eighth Circuit ruling affects states all across the Midwest, including South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and North Dakota. In this case, the employer’s health plan categorically excluded gender reassignment coverage to protect itself from discrimination charges. However, the key takeaway was not whether or not the employer’s actions were classified as discriminatory, but whether non-employee beneficiaries have standing to sue under Title VII. As decided by the court, non-employee beneficiaries are outside of the scope of the Title VII restrictions.

For additional guidance on how to comply with Title VII restrictions and/or respond to Title VII complaints, contact a Sioux City attorney, Sioux Falls lawyer, or Omaha attorney today.

To read more about Title VII and how it may affect you, check out our blog! http://blog.goosmannlaw.com/trial-lawyer-on-you-side/how-the-supreme-court-ruling-on-title-vii-constructive-discharge-claim-benefits-employees


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