November 21, 2023
Transgender Worker Denied Equal Benefits Challenges Discrimination by Turbocam, Inc. and Two Harvard Pilgrim Companies
‘I’m just asking for fair coverage and to be treated the same as my coworkers,’ says Lillian Bernier
Today, GLAD filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Lillian Bernier, a transgender woman who was denied insurance coverage by her employer, Turbocam, Inc., for necessary healthcare related to gender transition. Health Plans, Inc. (HPI) and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc. are also named in the complaint because together they developed, administer, and operate Turbocam’s health benefits plan.
Turbocam provides healthcare coverage to workers as part of employee compensation through a self-funded healthcare benefits plan administered and operated jointly by HPI and Harvard Pilgrim. Lillian has worked as a machinist at Turbocam since 2019, including continuous work through the COVID pandemic. When Lillian sought coverage for necessary medical care she learned that Turbocam’s plan excludes any coverage for treatment related to gender transition.
Such an exclusion singles out transgender people without any medical basis. Lillian, who supports herself and her family through her income, has had to pay out of pocket for medical expenses and even delay some critical care, to the detriment of herself and her family. By implementing and maintaining the exclusion, Turbocam is denying Lillian the same level of healthcare benefits that other employees receive simply because she is transgender. Harvard Pilgrim and HPI are supporting Turbocam in the denial of care.
“I’m proud of my work as a machinist at Turbocam,” said Lillian Bernier. “Like everyone else I rely on the pay and healthcare coverage from my job to support myself and my family. Even though I pay into the employee health plan like everyone else, I have had to pay out-of-pocket for my healthcare in addition to that, which is a stress on me and my family. I’m just asking for fair coverage and to be treated the same as my coworkers.”
The suit alleges that the exclusion of insurance coverage for Lillian’s healthcare violates federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex and disability, and New Hampshire state law prohibiting discrimination based on sex, gender identity, and disability. GLAD initially filed the discrimination claim on Lillian’s behalf with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, a preliminary requirement to filing the lawsuit in court.
“Providing lesser health benefits to transgender workers is employment discrimination,” said GLAD Attorney Chris Erchull, co-counsel for Lillian Bernier. “By maintaining a blanket exclusion of coverage for healthcare related to gender transition, Turbocam is trying to sidestep the law, which they would be unable to do were Harvard Pilgrim and HPI not facilitating the discrimination. Lillian has dedicated her time and energy to Turbocam, including working onsite throughout the COVID pandemic. She is simply asking to be treated with the same dignity, humanity, and fairness as other employees.”
“Turbocam, Harvard Pilgrim, and HPI are denying Lillian equal employment benefits because she is a transgender woman. That’s wrong and it violates the law,” said GLAD Senior Director of Litigation Ben Klein, co-counsel for Lillian Bernier. “Lillian wants the same opportunity everyone deserves to support her family, take care of her health, and be treated fairly by her employer,”
Turbocam, Inc. employs more than 900 engineers and manufactures parts for the HVAC, automotive, airline and other large industries, earning nearly $200 million in 2022. The company is based in New Hampshire.