A trans woman has successfully sued the jail who did not give her hormone treatment for the 16 months of her incarceration.
In 2013, Jessica Sunderland sued the Suffolk County in New York state. She served a 16 month sentence at the Riverside Correctional Facility.
Sunderland said the jail refused to give her her prescribed hormone therapy even though she had started transitioning two year prior.
‘I had been transitioning for two years prior, and to have everything reverse itself… it was horrible,’ she told The Appeal.
Violation of constitutional rights
In October, Sunderland won her case against the jail and its medical director, Vincent Geraci. A jury found the jail and Geraci had violated her constitutional rights. The court awarded her $280,000 in damages and $75,000 in punitive damages against Geraci.
According to the The Appeal, the jail kept giving Sunderland excuses about why it was not giving her hormones.
‘It was very uncomfortable to deal with the physical changes,’ she said. After multiple stalling tactics, the jail confirmed that Geraci decided she shouldn’t have hormone treatment.
‘I was told I wasn’t going to get it—at all,’ Sunderland said.
Geraci originally refused to prescribe Sunderland hormones because he claimed it would damage her liver. But also wrote in her medical records it was his ‘preference’.
The New York Times revealed Geraci had posted multiple anti-trans messages on Facebook.
‘One of them was a photo posted by a user named Trump Wall depicting a bathroom sign with a caption reading, “Men DO NOT belong in the bathrooms with girls!”,’ the NYT reported.
Sunderland’s lawyer, Joel Wertheimer, believed the jury’s decision was the first time that ‘a jury of eight peer citizens found, unanimously, that failure to provide hormone therapy to a transgender inmate violated her constitutional rights and entitled her to money damages’.
‘Not only did those eight peers find that hormone therapy was necessary medical treatment, they found it was malicious to consciously deny it, indicating how seriously they took transgender health,’ he told The Appeal.
But advocates hope Sunderland’s win will change things for trans inmates who are regularly denied hormone treatment.
‘When jails are sued by people they think have no one on their side, and they start losing, there are practical changes that happen,’ said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Chase Strangio.