There has been a lot of discussion over the last year about whether transgender employees are protected against sex discrimination under Title VII—but what about against disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Maybe. In Kate Lynn Blatt v. Cabela’s Retails, Inc., a federal district court in Pennsylvania has ruled that a transgender former employee can proceed with her ADA claims.
Blatt began work with Cabela’s in 2006. She alleges that she complained to management that her coworkers made degrading and discriminatory comments because she is transgender and has gender dysphoria. She also alleges that she was denied requested accommodations for her gender dysphoria (e.g., a female work uniform, use of the women’s restroom). She further claims that Cabela’s then terminated her in retaliation for her complaints and requested accommodations. She filed a lawsuit under Title VII and the ADA.
The ADA provides that the term disability shall not include, among other things, “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” Accordingly, Cabela’s moved to dismiss Blatt’s ADA complaint on the grounds that her gender identity disorder was not a covered disability. Blatt responded that if the ADA excluded her condition, it was a violation of her equal protection rights.
The court denied Cabela’s motion to dismiss, avoiding Blatt’s equal protection claim. Specifically, the court held that the ADA’s exclusion of gender identity disorders could be read narrowly to exclude only the condition of identifying with a different gender but not excluding “disabling condition that persons who identify with a different gender may have.” Ultimately, the court concluded that Blatt’s gender dysphoria, which she alleges substantially limits her major life activities, could be a covered disability. So, the court denied the motion to dismiss the ADA claims, both the discrimination and retaliation.
On a practical level, this is probably not game changing for employers (at least at this point). It is just one more consideration in dealing with transgender employees or applicants. If a person identifies as transgender, you may want to treat it as a disability issue, which could include engaging in the interactive process and requesting appropriate medical information. Similarly, if an employee complains that he or she is being mistreated because of being transgender, handle it like any other discrimination or harassment complaint. That way if you get sued—either for sex or disability discrimination—you will be in the best position to defend the claim, regardless of where the courts ultimately come down on this issue.