Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman who won a groundbreaking preliminary injunction from a federal district court in April 2015 ordering the state to provide her with gender-confirmation surgery, settled today with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Through today’s settlement, the state has dropped its request that the court vacate its April ruling and has agreed to provide almost half a million dollars to cover attorney’s fees and costs. As a result, the ruling will continue to stand as significant legal precedent that other courts across the country will look to when considering cases involving transgender people and health care.
“This is a long-awaited victory for Michelle and ensures her case will continue to stand as a critical legal precedent,” said Flor Bermudez, Detention Project Director at Transgender Law Center. “It’s clear: prisons have a legal constitutional obligation not to deny the medical needs or humanity of transgender people just because of who they are.”
Michelle’s case, combined with another successful TLC case on behalf of Shiloh Quine, prompted the California prison system to make history as the first state in the country to adopt a policy for transgender people in prison to access gender-confirmation surgery.
“What the state of California did to me was not right,” said Michelle. “I was denied medical care, experienced repeated and brutal sexual assault, and suffered the daily rejection of my basic humanity and identity for 30 years. This settlement is a message that transgender people’s medical needs are real and cannot be dismissed by the state just because of who we are. Even though I have been released, this settlement means that there is an undisputed legal precedent out there for all of the transgender people still suffering in prison today.”
“Hopefully the successful resolution of this litigation will serve as a powerful example to prison systems across the country that denying transgender inmates access to necessary medical care is neither constitutionally acceptable nor financially responsible,” said Herman Hoying of Ad Astra Law Group, TLC’s co-counsel in the litigation.
Transgender Law Center represented Michelle Norsworthy along with lead pro bono co-counsel Herman Hoying of Ad Astra Law Group, LLP and Christopher Banks and a team of pro bono lawyers at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP. “We are grateful for the tireless work Herman Hoying and the team at Morgan Lewis put into this case, and their commitment to finding justice for Michelle,” added Ilona Turner, Transgender Law Center Legal Director. “This victory would not have been possible without their generosity.”
Transgender Law Center changes law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. transgenderlawcenter.org