In Kate Lynn Blatt v. Cabela’s Retail, Inc., a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that a transgender woman with gender dysphoria was protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a decision that may allow for greater workplace protections for transgender employees.
A transgender employee of Cabela’s Retail, Inc. accused Cabela’s, among other things, of violating the ADA by discriminating against her on the basis of her gender dysphoria condition. Cabela’s argues that the employee’s gender dysphoria is considered one of the “gender identity disorders” that is listed in the ADA as an uncovered condition, thereby, making her exempt from the ADA.
The Court disagreed with Cabela’s and narrowly interprets “gender identity disorders” to refer simply to the condition of identifying with a different gender rather than to the disabling conditions that persons who identify with a different gender may have, such as gender dysphoria, which substantially limits a person’s major life activities like interacting with others, reproducing, and social and occupation functioning.
In support of its narrow interpretation, the Court cites to a Third Circuit Court of Appeals case which mandates that the ADA must be construed broadly to effectuate its purpose. As such, the Court reasons that any exceptions to the ADA should be read narrowly in order to permit the statute to achieve a broad reach. The Court highlights that its reasoning comports with the ADA’s legislative history, which reveals that Congress carefully distinguished between excluding certain sexual identities and not excluding the disabling conditions that persons of those identities might possess. As a result, gender dysphoria is a covered condition under the ADA.
The Court’s decision is a first in federal court to rule in favor of including transgender individuals under the ADA’s scope. If the verdict holds, if appealed, transgender employees will gain greater workplace protections. Employers should stay alert as to the status of this case as they may need to take action to ensure that they are compliant with the ADA.