Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last week that the governor may be named as a party in a case involving the rights of imprisoned transgender women. With its opinion in the original proceeding, the court applied precedent that the governor can be named, in his capacity as a chief executive, in lawsuits over agencies under his control.

“I think the decision was important because it clarifies that the governor will be held accountable for the actions of the state agencies,” said Paula Greisen, partner at King & Greisen, who is representing the plaintiffs.

CDOC is one of the largest state agencies, and historically the governor has answered for and been held accountable for conduct, such as civil rights violations, by state agencies, Greisen said. The opinion of the court reinforced that the state’s highest elected officials will be held accountable for the conduct of their staff and agencies.

The case, Raven v. Polis, brought by seven transgender female inmates on behalf of all women in similar situations, challenges the treatment of transgender women in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The seven named plaintiffs claim violations of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and the state Constitution.

The amended complaint names the Department of Corrections, multiple current and former CDOC employees, Polis and the CDOC executive director as defendants and alleges that defendants’ policies and practices discriminate against transgender women by “refusing to recognize them as women.” As a result, these women face “unreasonable” risks of violence, failing to provide necessary accommodations and offering inadequate medical and mental health care.

The amended complaint names Polis in his official capacity as governor and notes that he is statutorily responsible for appointing the CDOC executive director and for the overall administration of the laws of the state, according to the opinion.

This complete article appears in the Feb. 8 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.

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