Health plan can't deny Red Wing wife coverage due to sex change

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING
  • Star Tribune
  • April 4, 2012 - 9:41 PM

A Red Wing resident who underwent a sex-change operation to become a woman and then married a man is entitled to medical benefits under her husband's health plan, a federal judge in Minneapolis has ruled.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled Tuesday that the health plan administrator for a United Parcel Service employee erred when it denied coverage to his transgender spouse on the theory that Minnesota law bars same-sex marriages.

Davis found in a 37-page order that the employee benefit plan had imposed its own definitions of gender and marriage on the plan's participants in violation of Minnesota laws.

Davis stressed that the case had nothing to do with same-sex marriage. And he said that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman -- had no bearing in the case.

"The question is purely one of Minnesota law," Davis wrote. He found that Minnesota law recognizes a married person's sex when the marriage takes place.

Christine Alisen Radtke, 47, sued the health plan fund for the Miscellaneous Drivers and Helpers Union Local #638 alleging that it improperly denied her medical benefits in 2010 on the grounds that she was not legally married to UPS employee Calvin Radtke, 49.

The fund countersued, alleging that the Radtkes had fraudulently obtained their marriage license based on the false representation that Christine was legally a woman.

Davis flatly rejected the fund's arguments and granted summary judgment to Christine Radtke.

"We got a good win," she said Wednesday. "I just felt we were targeted and railroaded. For two years this has just been a stressful, painful mess for Calvin and myself. Financially, it's been hard. It's been really hard."

Since her benefits were canceled, Radtke said she's had gastric bypass surgery in an effort to get her diabetes under control.

She said she first learned that her health coverage had been canceled when she went to pick up a prescription and the pharmacist told her it had been canceled retroactive five years, to the date of her marriage.

"It really blindsided us," Radtke said. "We've been called liars. I've been called a man and not a woman. It's just crazy."

The fund's attorney, Peter Rosene of St. Paul, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In a 2010 letter to her attorney, Rosene noted that when Radtke was born in Wisconsin in 1965, her birth certificate identified her as a male named Richard William Barker. She legally changed her name in 1986, underwent a sex-change operation in 2003 and got a court order in Goodhue County directing Wisconsin to change her birth certificate in 2005 to reflect her name and sex change. The Radtkes got a marriage certificate a month later.

Rosene wrote that the fund had determined that Radtke was improperly enrolled in the health plan. Although Minnesota hasn't ruled on the issue of whether transgender individuals meet the legal definition of a spouse, he said, the fund calculated that the state probably would find that sex is determined at birth rather than by "subsequent events" such as surgery.

The fund demanded repayment of $80,411 in past medical benefits, plus interest.

Fund 'ignored evidence'

Davis ordered the fund to reinstate Radtke retroactively and reimburse her for any covered expenses that she has paid.

He said the fund "ignored all evidence" about how Minnesota law views Radtke's sex and marital status. The fund's decision, Davis wrote, "was a flagrant violation of its duty under any standard of review."

Davis rejected the argument that recognizing the Radtkes' marriage would violate a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriages are void. Radtke's argument is that she has an opposite-sex marriage, Davis said. He found that she has complied with all of the state's procedural requirements for a valid marriage.

"There is no law in Minnesota that prohibits recognition by the state of a person's changed sex. Minnesota is among 43 jurisdictions, including Wisconsin, that permit individuals who have undergone sex reassignment surgery to change their birth records to recognize change of sex," Davis wrote.

The only logical reason to amend a person's sex on a birth certificate is to use it to establish sex for other official documents, such as a driver's license, passport or marriage license, he said.

"The Minnesota Legislature surely knew that the amended certificates will be used for such purposes. And, in fact, the Social Security Administration, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the IRS all recognize Plaintiff as female and/or as Mr. Radtke's legal spouse."

Davis said he would retain jurisdiction to assure that the fund complies with his order to reinstate and reimburse Radtke.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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