Case: Raven v. Polis

2019CV34492 | Colorado state trial court

Filed Date: Nov. 22, 2019

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

The Clearinghouse does not have access to a docket for this case. Information for this summary was gathered from the complaint and the Transgender Law Center. On November 22, 2019, seven transgender women incarcerated at a Colorado men’s state prisons filed this class action lawsuit against several government defendants including the Governor of Colorado as well as the CDOC. Represented by both private counsel from a civil rights law firm and the Transgender Law Center, the plaintiffs sought de…

The Clearinghouse does not have access to a docket for this case. Information for this summary was gathered from the complaint and the Transgender Law Center.

On November 22, 2019, seven transgender women incarcerated at a Colorado men’s state prisons filed this class action lawsuit against several government defendants including the Governor of Colorado as well as the CDOC. Represented by both private counsel from a civil rights law firm and the Transgender Law Center, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief in addition to compensatory damages under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and the Colorado Constitution. According to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, CDOC must provide transgender women the same rights and privileges accorded to other people in state custody. The plaintiffs alleged that defendants violated the Colorado Constitution by denying equal treatment because of the plaintiffs’ sex and imposing cruel and unusual punishment.

This suit grew out of a July 2019 settlement between a transgender inmate and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) ( Saunders-Velez v. Colorado Department of Corrections ). In that case, a transgender woman alleged she was raped and abused at a men’s prison. Under the settlement she received $170,000 and was able to serve her sentence in the men’s prison of her choosing.

The complaint alleged that the plaintiffs and a class of at least 160 other transgender women incarcerated in CDOC men’s prisons have been discriminated against solely based on their status as transgender women. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that defendants and CDOC officers denied medical treatment to plaintiffs with gender dysphoria, engaged in sexual assault, and denied numerous requests for transfer to a women’s prison.

Further, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants routinely fail to report and investigate reports of sexual assault made by transgender women in men’s prisons. While CDOC implemented new policies providing that transgender women be referred to by proper pronouns, the plaintiffs additionally alleged that the defendants have failed to provide proper training to staff. The complaint stated that many workers at CDOC facilities refer to transgender women as “it” or “thing.”

The treatment described in the complaint caused multiple plaintiffs to engage in self harm and to be isolated in solitary confinement. Many of these women also suffered from depression as a result of trauma and gender dysphoria. The complaint stated that being placed in solitary confinement increases depression and often leads to further self-harm. While these women require proper mental health care, the plaintiffs stated that CDOC mental health providers do not have the required expertise and have distributed anti-transgender pamphlets.

Governor Polis argued that he was an improper party and moved for dismissal, but the district court denied the motion. The Governor then petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for relief. In October 2020, the court ordered the plaintiffs to show cause. 2020 WL 10647243. On February 1, 2021, the Colorado Supreme Court found that plaintiffs appropriately named the governor as a defendant, citing his constitutional duty to uphold the laws of the state and oversee the state’s executive agencies—including the Colorado Department of Corrections. 479 P.3d 918. 

On September 28, 2023, Courthouse News Service reported that the parties filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of a class action consent decree. Defendants agreed to pay $2.1 million to the class members and to implement housing solutions that would increase transgender women’s privacy and access to medical and mental health care. Specifically, the Department of Corrections would give trans women the choice to either be voluntarily placed in a trans unit within men’s prisons or to apply for placement in a women’s facility. The first unit—a 100-bed facility located on the grounds of the Sterling Correctional Facility—is already under development, according to CBS News. The proposed decree also requires defendants to improve medical care; update staff training protocols; limit cross gender searches; and use correct names and pronouns for incarcerated transgender women. 

The court held a fairness hearing on the consent decree on January 4, 2024, and granted an extension to allow more potential class members to be notified of the settlement. 

Law360 reported that the Judge Jill D. Dorancy approved the consent decree on March 26, 2024. The consent decree includes the injunctive relief described above. It divides the $2.1 million settlement among three tiers of class members: 1) those who suffered multiple injuries of a sexual nature or multiple serious bodily injuries will receive at least $10,000; 2) those who suffered a serious bodily injury or an injury of a sexual nature will receive at least $5,000; and 3) those who suffered a non-nominal injury will receive at least $1,000. 

The Clearinghouse does not have access to a docket for this case. As of April 2024, this case is ongoing.  

Summary Authors

Richa Bijlani (2/13/2020)

Grayson Metzger (4/10/2024)

People


Attorney for Plaintiff

Egyes, Lynly S. (California)

Freeman, Jessica (Colorado)

Greisen, Paula Dee (Colorado)

Meerkamper, Shawn Thomas (California)

Expert/Monitor/Master/Other

Melchert, Dale (California)

show all people

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

2019CV34492

Class Action Complaint

Nov. 22, 2019

Nov. 22, 2019

Complaint

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 2:16 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Colorado

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

Transgender Healthcare Access Cases

Key Dates

Filing Date: Nov. 22, 2019

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Seven transgender women who are inmates at Colorado men's state prisons, on behalf of a class of persons who "have been, are, or will be incarcerated in the CDOC and who have, at any time, identified themselves to CDOC during their incarceration as transgender women"

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Governor of Colorado, State

THE COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, State

Director of Prisons, State

Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, State

CDOC Chief Medical Officer, State

Chief of the Gender Dysphoria Committee and Chief of Psychiatry, State

former CDOC Chief Medical Officer, State

former Chief of Psychiatry, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Facility Type(s):

Government-run

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Available Documents:

Complaint (any)

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Damages

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Amount Defendant Pays: $2,100,000

Issues

General/Misc.:

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Failure to train

Personal injury

Disability and Disability Rights:

disability, unspecified

Discrimination Basis:

Gender identity

Discrimination Area:

Medical Exam / Inquiry

Jails, Prisons, Detention Centers, and Other Institutions:

Assault/abuse by non-staff (facilities)

Assault/abuse by staff (facilities)

Sexual abuse by residents/inmates

Sex w/ staff; sexual harassment by staff

Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)

LGBTQ+:

LGBTQ+

Medical/Mental Health Care:

Medical care, general

Mental health care, general

Self-injurious behaviors