Zoom in on Court Decisions and Settlements

Pennsylvania Judge Rules that Individual Claiming Disability Discrimination Based on Gender Dysphoria May Proceed with ADA Case

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania refused to dismiss the ADA claims of the plaintiff in the case of Blatt v Cabela’s Retail, Inc.. The plaintiff, who was “diagnosed with ‘Gender Dysphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder’” alleged that she was discriminated against based on her sex (in violation of the Civil Rights Act) and disability. Cabela’s sought dismissal of the disability claims because the ADA specifically excludes from protection individuals with “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” The plaintiff countered that applying the exclusion to her case would violate her constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

The judge noted that the “constitutional-avoidance canon” requires a court, when the constitutionality of a law is challenged, to “’ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the [constitutionality] question may be avoided.’”

The judge found “such an interpretation, namely, one in which the term gender identity disorders is read narrowly to refer to only the condition of identifying with a different gender, not to encompass (and therefore exclude from ADA protection) a condition like Blatt’s gender dysphoria, which goes beyond merely identifying with a different gender and is characterized by clinically significant stress and other impairments that may be disabling.”

The first-of-its-kind decision thus parsed the language of the ADA’s exclusion and the refined definition and understanding of gender dysphoria – dysphoria refers to a state of dissatisfaction, unease, anxiety, or distress – to distinguish the plaintiff’s gender identity from the impairments that “substantially limit her major life activities of interacting with others, reproducing, and social and occupational functioning.”

The case will proceed to explore the merits of the plaintiff’s claims that she was discriminated against, retaliated against for requesting accommodation, and ultimately terminated because of her disability.