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Paul, Weiss Secures Important Jail Policy Reforms for Transgender Individuals

Alongside co-counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and the New York Civil Liberties Union, Paul, Weiss secured an important victory in a federal civil rights action brought by Makyyla Holland, a transgender woman who endured discrimination, abuse, harassment and denial of medical care while incarcerated in the Broome County, New York, jail. Holland, who suffers from gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression, was beaten and subjected to an invasive and unlawful strip search conducted by a team of male officers, placed in a men’s housing unit, forced to shower in front of men, and denied access to prescribed antidepressants and hormone treatments and to clothing and grooming items commonly available to cisgender women in custody.

Our lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleged discrimination against Holland on the basis of her sex, transgender status, or disability, and asserted that Broome County, its sheriff and certain jail staff, and outside medical providers had violated Holland’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and various state laws. In addition to seeking damages, the lawsuit sought to affirm that transgender individuals are entitled to be housed in jail facilities consistent with their gender identity, to receive gender-affirming care and to be otherwise treated with dignity in a manner consistent with their gender identity. Through a landmark settlement reached with the defendants, Holland obtained substantially all of the requested relief.

Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay Holland $160,000 in damages, and Broome County further committed to significant reforms concerning the treatment of LGBTQ individuals in county custody, including policy changes permitting people in custody to be housed consistent with their gender identity, to be searched by officers consistent with their gender identity, and to have access to gender affirming medical care and gender affirming commissary items, such as binders, wigs and gaffs. The new policies obtained through the settlement further require that staff at the jail respect a person’s gender identity in all other contexts, including name and pronoun use.

The Paul Weiss team included litigation partners Loretta Lynch and Audra Soloway; pro bono attorney Jeremy Benjamin, litigation associates Danielle Marryshow, Bethany Robinson and Ridan Cunningham; and personal representation counsel Emma Sobol.

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