Raven v. Polis

Year: 2019 Court: Denver District Court Status: Victory

In November 2019, Transgender Law Center (TLC), Greisen Medlock, LLP, and Arnold & Porter filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all transgender women who are or will be in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC). The lawsuit claims that the CDOC has discriminated against transgender women solely on the basis of their gender identity and that these women have been subjected to unsafe situations, including severe sexual harassment, physical violence, and rape.

There are about 170 trans women in Colorado incarcerated in men’s prison, subjecting them to horrific abuse. The lawsuit states that the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and the Colorado Constitution mandate that CDOC must provide transgender women the same rights and privileges afforded to other people in their custody. This includes housing that ensures that trans women are housed in a safe way that respects their identity, and that they are provided necessary medical and mental care.

The seven women represented in the lawsuit have gender dysphoria, which courts have recognized as a condition that warrants disability rights. The lawsuit explains that gender dysphoria can result in severe depression and anxiety.

August 2020 Update: The district court judge made a major ruling holding that Colorado prisons qualify as places of public accommodation for purposes of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. State anti-discrimination laws and the state agencies that enforce them are a largely untapped and lower-barrier avenue for incarcerated people to assert their rights, and this decision is a big step in the right direction.

February 2021 Update: The Colorado Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting the Governor’s argument that state caselaw required naming as defendants only those officials “specifically charged” with carrying out the challenged policies. The Court explained, “The CDOC is an executive agency directly within the Governor’s control. As such, the Governor remains one of the proper defendants for the claims asserted.”

March 2024 Update: The judge approved a Consent Decree to enact comprehensive policy changes, including providing gender-affirming healthcare in line with community standards and establishing two new housing units: an “Integration Unit” at a women’s prison intended to temporarily house transgender women as they transition into the women’s general population as well as a “Voluntary Transgender Unit” at a men’s prison for transgender women who prefer to be housed together. CDOC will work with outside experts in transgender health to implement the consent decree by the end of 2024. TLC will continue to be involved with implementation, and the Consent Decree will remain in place until at least 2029. Read our full press release here.

Case Resources and Documents