Federal Court: Transgender Employee With Gender Dysphoria Wins ADA Protection

By George Khoury, Esq. on May 23, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A decision out of a federal court in Pennsylvania last week is being heralded as a landmark ruling for the transgender community. Traditionally, transgender individuals have been excluded from protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act because being transgender is not a disability. However, this meant that certain medical conditions that are prominent in the transgender community, such as gender dysphoria, were also being excluded from protection under the ADA.

The Pennsylvania judge distinguished between these two exact issues when ruling that a transgender employee at a Cabela's could proceed under her ADA claim. While the case still needs to proceed with fact-finding, more motions, and potentially a trial, last week's ruling is groundbreaking. However, individuals should be careful to not regard transgender individuals as disabled unless the person actually has a disability.

Transgender Is Not Disabled

Under the ADA, there are specific exclusions for homosexuality, bisexuality, as well as "transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders." As the Pennsylvania court stated, these exclusions are specific, and tend more to show the law excludes considering a person's gender identity or sexual orientation as a disability.

In the case against Cabela's the plaintiff asserted that she faced disability discrimination as a result of suffering gender dysphoria, which can be described as a form of anxiety characterized by "clinically significant distress associated with the experience of being transgender."

Details of the Case

Kate Lynn Blatt, now 36 years old, started working at Cabela's in 2006. A year later, she was terminated, allegedly after threatening a co-worker's child. Blatt contends the termination was retaliatory and alleges that she suffered discrimination on account of her being transgender, as well as suffering from gender dysphoria. Blatt asserts that the harassment she suffered consisted of such acts as being denied the right to use the women's restroom, or being required to use her former male name rather than use her legal (female) name on her name badge.

Cabela's has asserted that there was no knowledge of Blatt's gender dysphoria, nor that Blatt ever made a request for reasonable accommodation. However, Blatt denies these allegations, and asserts that her superiors were made aware of her condition as well as the harassment she suffered.

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