University of Michigan medical professional fired for resisting gender ideology demands: lawsuit

Physician assistant cited religious conscience, medical objections to "gender affirming" medicine, preferred pronouns for patients.

Published: October 12, 2022 5:32pm

Updated: October 12, 2022 11:19pm

A year and a half after a federal appeals court ruled a public university can't force a professor to use his students' preferred pronouns, a physician assistant is seeking a more expansive outcome against a different public university under the same court's jurisdiction.

Valerie Kloosterman sued the University of Michigan Health-West and several officials for firing her "for no reason other than her sincerely held religious beliefs" after a long track record of "positive reviews and accolades" at her family and pediatric clinic, including from transgender patients, the federal complaint says.

The Christian is seeking a religious accommodation against not only using "biology-obscuring pronouns" for her patients, but also any involvement in so-called gender affirming medicine (GAM), including referrals for puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and breast and genital removals.

Kloosterman objects to both on medical grounds as well, saying patients can miss "life-saving screenings and procedures" if their biological sex isn't clear from the pronouns in their documentation. 

GAM procedures are "experimental," have not been validated by "methodologically rigorous long-term studies" and "often" result in loss of bone density and sexual function, among other "serious complications," according to the First Amendment suit, filed by the First Liberty Institute.

Kloosterman's medical judgments are partly backed by an FDA warning this summer about "gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists" — puberty blockers — based on their "plausible" connection to spontaneous increases in intracranial pressure in girls. 

She alleges UM Health-West accommodated "a vast array of other personal preferences, secular objections, and independent medical judgment" for other employees, such as letting a male doctor opt out of "pelvic exams on female patients."

Providers who objected to prescribing opioids and "diet pills ... were not even placed in a situation that might call for a referral," while patients who wanted "toenail removals" were directed to a podiatrist because clinic staff refused to do them.

UM Health-West, which is governed by the university's Board of Regents, could face an expensive settlement if the lawsuit survives a motion to dismiss. After the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down compelled pronoun usage, Shawnee State University paid Nicholas Meriwether a $400,000 settlement and pledged to no longer police his speech.

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a similar federal lawsuit in August against Michigan officials on behalf of Christian Healthcare Centers. 

The nonprofit "faces a credible threat and substantial risk that it will be investigated and prosecuted" for refusing to provide GAM to gender-confused patients, the suit said, citing a sex-discrimination law that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and a state court had deemed inclusive of gender identity.

Concerns about coercing medical professionals into GAM aren't limited to religious objectors. The gender-critical Women's Liberation Front filed comments against the Department of Health and Human Services' proposed rule that would treat refusal to provide GAM as discrimination.

The problems for Kloosterman started last year when Metropolitan Health, her employer of 17 years, "culminated its affiliation" with the UM Health System and rebranded with its current name. 

The 2018 training on treating LGBTQ+ patients did not require her to "affirm any statement," but a 2021 training required her to affirm "statements concerning sexual orientation and gender identity" against her faith with no option for a religious accommodation.

When she met with human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion officials to discuss the situation on July 29, 2021, one of them, according to her complaint, "grew hostile, visibly angry with tight fists and a flushed demeanor," as Kloosterman explained why she couldn't make GAM referrals or address patients by preferred pronouns.

DEI Coordinator Thomas Pierce called her "evil" and a "liar" for claiming gay patients never complained about the care she gave them, the suit claims. He said Kloosterman couldn't bring a Bible to work or let her religious beliefs inform her care, and that addressing patients by name instead of preferred pronoun could cause their suicide. She "cited some scientific studies that showed otherwise," and Pierce, who has "no formal medical training or education," responded that "he had studies that would disprove her studies."

Kloosterman was summoned to a meeting a month later with a day's notice and no suggestion she would be fired on the spot. At the meeting, she alleges, one of the defendants "entered the room and said that, because Ms. Kloosterman refused to use preferred pronouns and because she refused to refer for 'gender reassignment surgeries,' she no longer worked at University of Michigan Health-West." 

While her termination notice gave her last day as Nov. 22, officials said "today" was her last day, took her badge and banned her from returning for her personal items.

Officials informed her colleagues at the clinic the next morning that "Valerie no longer works for the University of Michigan" because of a "clear violation" they refused to specify, the suit says, implying Kloosterman "had done something so egregious" it required termination.

The letter memorializing the reasons for her termination included, she says, "a newly fabricated and baseless allegation" that she had "altered medical records to change patients' templated pronouns."

Kloosterman has yet to receive any statement "disavowing" Pierce's attacks on her religious beliefs, she says.

"University of Michigan Health-West is committed to providing appropriate medical treatment to all patients and respects the religious beliefs of its employees," a spokesperson wrote in an email to Just the News. "Our organization does not discuss personnel issues and as such, has no further comment."

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