Ex-Unified police officer who is transgender sues department for alleged discrimination

For the majority of his career at Unified Police Department, Taylor Scruggs loved his work. If he wasn’t taking phone calls or writing reports, he said, he was being proactive, out finding stolen cars or fugitives or illegal drugs.

A former teacher, he said he loved the ebb and flow of police work, that every day was different than the one before. But there was at least one constant.

“I went home every night, and was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get up tomorrow and do this all over again,’" Scruggs said.

Yet when the UPD detective, with ten years of experience on the force, came out as transgender and started physically transitioning, people around the office treated him differently, he said, making snide comments about his clothes or how he looked, or ignoring him. He said someone placed a “Men Only” sign on the door of a previously unmarked bathroom that he (and everyone else) had used for years.

“I felt really alone, like I wasn’t being supported,” he said. “I would go home and not feel feel that same, ‘Gosh, you can’t wait to get up and do it all over again tomorrow’ feeling.”

Eventually, the department fired him. Now he is suing UPD, alleging the department discriminated against him for being transgender, did not provide him accommodations at work, and caused a severe depression that led to issues such as substance use and insomnia, and ultimately his job loss.

The lawsuit also alleges that UPD’s employee health insurance discriminates against transgender people by not providing coverage for surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. He is asking for his job back and for the department to do training and institute policies to accommodate its transgender and gender non-conforming employees.

“If I can help somebody else go through this process and it not be so complicated for them, then that’s what I hope to accomplish,” Scruggs said.

UPD spokeswoman Sgt. Melody Gray said the department disputes all the allegations in the lawsuit, but declined to comment further. She said the department will be filing a “detailed response” in court.

Scruggs started working at UPD in May 2005, moving up from serving as a deputy, to a patrol officer and finally a detective. He began transitioning gradually at the beginning of 2015. That May, he started taking testosterone. In June, he applied for a promotion to property crimes detective and got it.

The next month, he told his supervisors that he was transgender. At first, the lawsuit says, Scruggs thought his superiors were supportive.

But the training he wanted for coworkers didn’t happen and the gender neutral restroom and locker room he requested never materialized. Two years later, the lawsuit alleges, a new deputy chief was brought into Scruggs’ precinct and he felt that the working conditions became unbearable.

The lawsuit says that while the deputy chief said he accepted Scruggs, he wouldn’t talk to him. Neither would Scruggs’ direct supervisor, a sergeant, who began assigning him “lesser assignments and busy work."

Then colleagues placed the “Men Only” sign on the bathroom. Later, at a meeting where Scruggs and the sergeant were supposed to “hash this out,” the lawsuit alleges, the sergeant admitted he was ignoring Scruggs, adding, “if I ignore you, I don’t have to worry about making a mistake.” He added he didn’t understand “the transgender thing.”

The lawsuit says the alleged harassment caused Scruggs to abuse alcohol and he developed an addiction. Soon after, Scruggs determined he needed gender reassignment surgery to treat his gender dysphoria and curb the substance use disorder he’d developed to cope with it.

He scheduled the surgery for spring 2018. But he later learned his UPD insurance covers “medically necessary hormone replacement therapy, medically necessary genital surgery, and medically necessary genital surgery as treatment for various other health conditions, but it expressly excludes coverage of such treatments when prescribed for gender transition.”

Scruggs checked in to rehab for substance abuse in July 2018. He was eventually written up for “sick leave abuse and training violations," and later demoted back to patrol officer, the lawsuit says.

Then, in September 2018, Scruggs had an adverse reaction to new medication and called the University of Utah Health crisis line, where he threatened suicide and also threatened his supervisors, the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 21, 2018, he again tried again to get approval for gender reassignment surgery. Five days later, UPD fired him for threats made during the September crisis call.

The lawsuit alleges that the personal issues Scruggs developed — and time off he took to deal with it, plus the threats he made in September — were a product of the discrimination and harassment he faced at work.

His lawsuit alleges he faced a hostile work environment, discrimination based on sex and disability and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. It also accuses the Utah Retirement Systems Membership Council — which provides UPD insurance — and its chairman for violating the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.