Lawsuit challenges exclusion of Gender Identity Disorder from ADA protections

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Kate Lynn Blatt, a transgender woman, began identifying as a woman in 2005. She changed her name, previously James, started dressing in feminine attire, grew long hair and began hormone therapy to change her physical appearance.

Her employer, Cabela’s Sporting Goods, allegedly imposed a variety of barriers to her transition. In addition to allegedly prohibiting her from wearing a “Kate Lynn” nametag, her legal name, it denied her request to use the women’s restroom and subjected her to constant harassment.

Upon being fired in March 2007, Blatt filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits gender discrimination in the workplace.

In late January, however, Blatt also filed a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, on the basis that the law’s provision excluding protection for transgender people violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

“The (Gender Identity Disorder) exclusion in the ADA was the result of moral animus on behalf of a small group of United States Senators, who, in a fervish attempt to exclude the mental impairments they deemed morally unfit, unconstitutionally deprived transgender individuals from the ADA’s protections,” the lawsuit states, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” However, the ADA specifies that the term disability does not include “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”

The 56-page complaint provides an extensive overview of the legislative history of the provision. During one of the many legislative hearings during the crafting of the ADA, Sen. William Armstrong took to the Senate Floor to express his opposition to an all-encompassing definition of disability that provided protections to people with “mental disorders…that might have a moral content to them or in which in the opinion of some people have moral content.” Similarly, Sen. Warren Rudman expressed his concerns about “behavior that is immoral, improper, or illegal and which individuals are engaging in of their own volition.”

Sen. Armstrong submitted a list of “morally questionably impairments” to Sen. Tom Harkin, the ADA’s lead drafter. Under the heading “sexual disorder,” Armstrong cited two decisions under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a predecessor of the ADA that only address federal activities, that listed “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as disabilities.

During this debate, far more attention was placed on Sen. Jessie Helm’s campaign to exclude “homosexuality” and “bisexuality” from the ADA, an especially charged debate considering that the AIDS crisis was near its height during this time period.

While civil rights advocates were ultimately successful in defeating these efforts, part of the compromise was the ADA’s exclusion of coverage for other gender-related disabilities.

Sidney L. Gold & Associates is representing Blatt in the lawsuit.

One thought on “Lawsuit challenges exclusion of Gender Identity Disorder from ADA protections

  1. Marc Brenman says:

    This lawsuit has pretty much zero chance of success. The federal courts defer to the plain language of statutes. The way to change the offensive provision is through new legislation. But the ADA was amended by Congress fairly recently, so that is unlikely also. There are other statutes being proposed to add federal protections to transgender people in employment. And a number of federal agencies have already done so. Pennsylvania state law can also be changed. Anyway, not everything has necessarily to be construed as a disability. In fact, many transgender people do not believe they have a disability.

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