HARTFORD – A federal court has ruled in favor of Veronica-May Clark in her lawsuit challenging the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC)’s failure to treat her gender dysphoria for years. In the decision by Judge Vanessa Bryant, the court has ruled that DOC employees Dr. Gerald Valetta, Richard Bush, and Barbara Kimble-Goodman were “deliberately indifferent to Ms. Clark’s serious medical needs” in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court denied the defendants’ request for qualified immunity in the case.
“I'm so relieved. Gender-affirming care is common sense medical care, and I never should have had to fight the DOC to get it. I hope the state will stop fighting and start providing me with the medical care that I need, and I hope my case means no one else will have to experience the pain that I have," said Veronica-May Clark.
“Incarcerated people are people, trans people are people, and every person deserves access to the healthcare they need. This case is a stark reminder of the pitiful lack of basic healthcare in our state’s prisons – as well as the lengths the system will go to defend itself – but it is also a testament to Ms. Clark’s courage. Today’s ruling is a victory for Ms. Clark, incarcerated people, and trans people everywhere. For years, Ms. Clark has bravely fought for the medical care she needs, and we hope this ruling will be the final step toward securing her access to life-and gender-affirming treatment,” said Elana Bildner, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut senior staff attorney.
The court’s decision catalogs Ms. Clark’s “years of documented mental anguish” as a result of the DOC’s deliberate denial of her medical care, as well as her repeated requests for help.
When remarking upon a serious medical event caused by the DOC’s refusal to meet Ms. Clark’s healthcare needs – an event so serious that Ms. Clark was not returned to the same facility to recover in order to spare the staff that witnessed it – the court noted: “it defies credulity that the DOC could appreciate the trauma its staff experienced, and yet not appreciate the trauma Ms. Clark was experiencing ... The pain she must have been experiencing is inescapably palpable.”
The decision points out that as of October 2021, the DOC “never employed anyone having the required skills, knowledge, and expertise to identify, treat, and guide transgender people in safe gender transition,” and that as of February 2022, the DOC still did not have a formal treatment protocol for gender dysphoria.
The court also noted that the DOC, represented by lawyers from the Connecticut Attorney General’s office, relied in its defense on “semantics rather than substance,” and “litigation gamesmanship rather than a fair and reasoned assessment of Ms. Clark’s medical needs,” while also attempting to inject “sham affidavits” into the briefing.
The court noted that the DOC’s arguments around Ms. Clark’s treatment would have been equally inexcusable if Ms. Clark’s diagnosis had been cancer or another serious medical condition, stating: “Giving a patient an ice pack for a broken bone is not adequate care. [DOC physician] Dr. Valletta is not permitted to hide behind his incompetence in treating people suffering from gender dysphoria to avoid liability. The fact that he did not know how to treat her is proof positive that he had a duty to refer her to someone who could.”
The court has ordered the parties in the case to meet and report back within 35 days of September 15, 2023.
Ms. Clark represented herself in the lawsuit when she first filed it in 2019, and in 2021 secured representation from Dan Barrett and Elana Bildner of the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut and Daniel Noble, Matthew Danzer, and Kelsey Powderly of Finn Dixon & Herling LLP.
Gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis for someone who experiences the severe distress that can occur when their true gender does not match with their outward appearance and/or the sex they were assigned at birth. When gender dysphoria develops, it can be treated with a standard medical protocol designed to alleviate the person’s distress. Not all transgender people develop gender dysphoria, and being transgender itself is not an illness.
For more about the case: https://www.acluct.org/en/cases/clark-v-department-correction
For a copy of the decision: