Federal court rules that UMMS discriminated against a transgender man

Published on: January 07, 2023 2:56 PM EST|Updated on: January 09, 2023 11:45 AM EST

St. Joseph Medical Center has a new program to train more nurses at the Community College of Baltimore County to work at the hospital (there's a giant national and local nurse shortage).
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A federal judge ruled Friday that the University of Maryland Medical System discriminated against a transgender man who was denied a hysterectomy at the St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

Jesse Hammons, a Maryland man represented by the ACLU, went to the hospital in late 2019 and was seen by a physician who scheduled him for a hysterectomy as treatment for his diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The doctor was later told by the hospital’s chief medical officer that he could not perform the surgery because the Catholic institution had to adhere to the National Catholic Bioethics Standard.

The doctor called Hammons the night before the scheduled surgery to inform him that it couldn’t be performed. Hammons had the surgery about six months later at a different hospital.

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow said that the essential facts of the case were not in dispute and ruled that the medical system had discriminated against Hammons on the basis of sex.

In a news release, senior staff attorney Joshua Block said the ACLU is “thankful the court saw through a transparently discriminatory and harmful action by UMMS. The government has no business operating a religious hospital, much less do they have the right to deny transgender patients care they routinely provide to cisgender patients.”

While the University of Maryland Medical System said in a statement that it disputed the conclusions of the judge and may comment after its attorneys have analyzed the ruling, the organization said that “we sincerely wish the very best for Mr. Hammons and we support his efforts to seek the highest quality healthcare.” UMMS said the legal claim stemmed from a “surgeon mistakenly scheduling a procedure that could not be performed at the hospital.”

The statement said UMMS had offered to provide gender-affirming surgery at a different location, but Hammons had declined. “UMMS remains committed to meeting the unique medical needs of transgender individuals and patients who are routinely scheduled by physicians for appointments and procedures at UMMS member organizations.”

One of the issues in the case was whether St. Joseph Medical Center, as a Catholic hospital, had discriminated against Hammons because of its religious beliefs. Under Maryland law, Chasanow wrote, UMMS must operate the medical system “without discrimination based upon race, creed, sex or national origin.”

In addition, St. Joseph receives federal Medicaid and Medicare funding. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits providers receiving federal funding from discriminating on the “basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex,” and specifically includes provisions for “pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.”

However, when UMMS purchased St. Joseph in 2012, it agreed that the hospital would continue to “operate in a manner consistent with Catholic values and principles” and that it would implement the ethics and religious directives of the Catholic Health Services. Additionally, a representative of the Archdiocese of Baltimore would be on the hospital’s board.

Catholic health institutions choose to not offer gender-affirming treatment because the belief is that “it cannot conform to the true good of the human person who is a body-soul union unalterably created male or female,” the ruling said.

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In her ruling, the judge said Dr. Gail Cunningham, St. Joseph’s chief medical officer, testified that she believed she had to adhere to the Catholic directives and so directed Hammons’ surgery to be canceled.

UMMS, which offers gender-affirming care, had argued that Hammons’ suit against the medical system should be dismissed because it is a separate medical institution from St. Joseph.

The judge ruled in favor of a summary judgment in the case. No damages have yet been determined.

The ACLU and Hammons could not immediately be reached for comment.