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State sues CSL Plasma for alleged discrimination

The state of Minnesota is suing CSL Plasma, claiming a transgender woman was “unlawfully denied” the ability to donate plasma at Duluth and Minneapolis locations. (Brooks Johnson / bjohnson@duluthnews.com)

Minnesota is suing CSL Plasma after a transgender woman was “unlawfully denied” the ability to donate plasma at Duluth and Minneapolis locations, the state alleges.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Attorney General Keith Ellison filed the suit on Thursday in Hennepin County. The state says the company is violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act by denying Alice James the ability to earn money by donating plasma.

“CSL Plasma discriminated against James in a place of public accommodation on the basis of her sexual orientation,” the suit says.

The company disputes the lawsuit and says it “acted lawfully.”

“The state has made no efforts to discuss this matter with us in advance of filing its complaint,” spokesman Robert Mitchell wrote in an email to the News Tribune. “Nonetheless, we will work with the Department to resolve this matter or, if that is not possible, will vindicate our position in court.”

James began donating plasma at the downtown Duluth donation center in 2011 and was reportedly required to identify as biologically male. In 2015 she told the company she identified as female and was told CSL Plasma was “indefinitely deferring transgender persons from donating plasma,” according to the lawsuit.

The company, which has locations across the country, had a “flat ban on all transgender donors” up until 2016, when it revised its policy to “allow donors to self-identify their gender and accept donations from transgender persons who have not had sex with a man or engaged in other behaviors that it identifies as risk factors,” the lawsuit says.

“CSL Plasma policies have evolved since the FDA updated its guidance on donor suitability in December 2015,” Mitchell said. “Since that time, CSL Plasma has put in place policies that support self-identification based on gender preference. …  The safety of the donors and employees are of paramount concern and help ensure the safety of the plasma that ultimately becomes life-saving therapies for patients with rare bleeding disorders.”

The state alleges James was still denied the ability to donate at the Minneapolis location in 2018 and was told she “should try to donate plasma at a vendor other than CSL.” The suit contends James lost the ability to earn about $60 a week, and the state is asking a judge to order CSL Plasma to compensate her “in an amount up to three times the actual damages sustained as well as damages for mental anguish and suffering.” The suit also requests a civil penalty and that employees undergo discrimination training.

“I am proud to live in a state where the law demands that people be treated fairly,” James said in a statement. “I hope this case helps to ensure fair treatment for other Minnesotans.”

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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