The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is suing a plasma collection agency for allegedly discriminating against a transgender woman who was banned from donating because of her gender identity.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of the department against CSL Plasma Inc., which identifies itself as "one of the world's largest collectors of human plasma."
"Obviously, anyone's gender identity is a core component of who they are, and we want to make sure that the core component of who they are is protected and celebrated," said Irina Vaynerman, deputy commissioner of the Human Rights Department.
CSL Plasma Inc. initially declined to address the lawsuit Thursday, but later issued a statement refuting the claims.
"CSL Plasma acted lawfully and disputes the allegations by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that it has violated the law," the company said. "CSL Plasma policies have evolved since the FDA updated its guidance on donor suitability in December 2015. Since that time, CSL Plasma has put in place policies that support self-identification based on gender preference."
The suit is in response to a complaint filed by Minneapolis resident Alice James. Her attorney said he expects her to also join as a plaintiff.
"I am proud to live in a state where the law demands that people be treated fairly," James said in a written statement provided by her attorney, Joshua Newville. "I hope this case helps to ensure fair treatment for other Minnesotans."
James is not speaking with the media, Newville said.
"Although she is very interested in the outcome of this matter and seeing justice done for both herself and others in the state of Minnesota, she doesn't really want this case focused on her," Newville said. "She wants this case focused on CSL Plasma and the broader understanding of gender identity."
James was a regular donor at CSL Plasma for years and relied on it as part of her income until the company told her in 2015 that it did not accept donations from transgender people, Newville said.
"That had a pretty catastrophic impact on her both financially and emotionally," he said.
According to Newville: James was living in Duluth in 2011 when she began donating at the company's location there. She identified as a woman. The facility "rejected" that and forced her to identify as a man in their records.
James donated plasma a few times a week for years. In 2015, she pushed the company to identify her as a woman in their records, and was told she could no longer donate.
James filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in 2016, which investigated and found in 2017 that the allegation had merit.
The department tried to initiate settlement talks with CSL Plasma Inc. that included recommended policy changes, but the company refused to engage, Vaynerman said.
The company reported that it had "a flat ban on all transgender donors," Vaynerman said, adding that its refusal to engage in settlement talks compelled the lawsuit.
The company's practice contradicts FDA recommendations, which allow donors to self-report their gender and recommends "screening out only men who have had sex with other men once or more in the past year," the lawsuit said.
James never met that criterion for being screened out, her attorney said.
"The state has made no efforts to discuss this matter with us in advance of filing its complaint," the company said. "Nonetheless, we will work with the department to resolve this matter or, if that is not possible, will vindicate our position in court."
Newville said James attempted to donate plasma in October 2018 at a Minneapolis location and was denied.
"They have not really explained their rationale or justification behind it," Newville said.
The company's alleged actions are especially egregious, he said, because in 1975, Minneapolis became the nation's first governmental body to make discrimination based on gender identity illegal, and in 1993, Minnesota was the first state in the country to follow suit.
"We have an important legacy to uphold," Ellison said at a news conference announcing the suit.
According to the company's website, CSL Plasma is headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla. The parent company, CSL Limited, is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia.
The lawsuit is asking that a judge find CSL Plasma in violation of the state anti-discrimination law, financially compensate James "up to three times the actual damages sustained as well as damages for mental anguish and suffering," order its employees to undergo training on discrimination and submit quarterly reports regarding its deferral of transgender donors at its Minnesota locations, among other requests.
The state Department of Human Rights has received 16 complaints between 2016 and this month alleging discrimination against transgender people. Eight cases are closed cases and eight are open. They involve business, education, employment, public accommodation and public service settings.