A transgender woman has been allowed to sue her former employer for sex discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though the ADA explicitly excludes transgender people from protection.
Kate Lynn Blatt, 36, from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, has become the first transgender person to be allowed to sue under the ADA for gender dysphoria, a condition where a person feels their emotional and psychological identity is opposite to their biological sex.
US District Judge Joseph Leeson ruled Thursday that Blatt would be allowed to sue her former employer under the ADA.
He avoided ruling on the constitutionality of the ADA, as Blatt and her Philadelphia-based lawyer Neelima Vanguri sought, under the legal principle that courts should avoid decisions made on constitutional grounds if possible.
Kate Lynn Blatt, 36, pictured, from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, has become the first transgender person to be allowed to sue under the Americans for Disability Act after a US District judge’s ruling Thursday
Blatt, pictured in 2016, is suing her former employer, Cabela’s Inc, for sex discrimination under the ADA for gender dysphoria
Leeson, from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, found the case could go forward in part because the law should be broadly construed to give people with disabilities recourse to pursue discrimination claims.
Being transgender is not considered a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association but it can give rise to gender dysphoria, a type of anxiety that may require medical treatment. Gender dysphoria forms Blatt’s basis for making a claim under the ADA.
Blatt is suing her former employer, the retail chain Cabela’s Inc, for sex discrimination, saying she was fired after a pattern of harassment that included denying her use of the women’s bathroom and temporarily forcing her to wear a name tag with her male name given at birth.
Blatt worked at the Cabela’s store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, in 2006 and 2007. She was fired, she said, when Cabela’s alleged she threatened a co-worker’s child during an altercation at work, a claim Blatt denies.
Cabela’s representatives did not respond to after-hours requests for comment. The company previously declined to comment because the litigation was pending.
Blatt says she was fired from Cabela’s after a pattern of harassment including denying her use of women’s bathrooms and temporarily forcing her to wear a name tag with her male birth name, James. Pictured is a photo of Blatt in the fifth grade when she was James
Blatt, right, is pictured in 2016 with her wife Lindsey Nowak, center, who is also a transgender woman, and Blatt’s mother Arlene, left
In 2006 and 2007, Blatt worked at the Cabela’s in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, pictured. Cabela’s representatives did not respond to after-hours requests for comment after the ruling Thursday
The ADA passed in 1990 as a landmark law protecting people with disabilities. But the lawsuit, filed in 2014, challenges a little-known clause in ADA that ‘disability’ shall not include ‘transsexualism’.
The lawsuit, which also cites protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against sex discrimination in employment, had asked the judge to rule that the ADA clause violates the US Constitution because it denies equal protection for all under the law.
Vanguri said she would have preferred that the judge had ruled on the constitutional question, but that this was still a victory because of similar cases that other plaintiffs filed after Blatt.
‘Other courts will look to this decision,’ Vanguri said. ‘I’m hopeful we will be able to expand civil rights for transgender people just a little.’
The lawsuit that Blatt filed in 2014 asked the judge to rule on the constitutionality of the ADA, which denies protections for transgender people, but US District Judge Joseph Leeson did not rule on the act’s constitutionality. Blatt, right, is pictured with her wife Nowak, left, at the 15th Annual Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Blatt’s lawyer Neelima Vanguri said she would have preferred that the judge had ruled on the constitutional question, but that this was still a victory because of similar cases that other plaintiffs filed after Blatt, pictured