Monday, May 22, 2017

Transgender ADA claim survives motion to dismiss

In Blatt v. Cabela's Retail, Inc., a Pennsylvania transgender employee filed an ADA discrimination and retaliation claim. She alleged that "she requested a female nametag and uniform and use of the female restroom as accommodations for her disability." Her alleged disability was "Gender Dysphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder."

Here's the problem . . . the ADA specifically excludes "gender identity disorders" from  the definition of "disability." 42 U.S. Code § 12211. The defendant contended that her case should be dismissed because her alleged disability is specifically excluded by the statute. The plaintiff claimed that this exclusion is unconstitutional because it violates her equal protection rights.

The Court applied the "constitutional-avoidance canon" - the idea being that courts should try to interpret statutes in a way that avoids resolving constitutional issues - to conclude:
In view of these considerations, it is fairly possible to interpret the term gender identity disorders narrowly to refer to simply the condition of identifying with a different gender, not to exclude from ADA coverage disabling conditions that persons who identify with a different gender may have —such as Blatt’s gender dysphoria, which substantially limits her major life activities of interacting with others, reproducing, and social and occupational functioning.
In other words, the Court interpreted the statutory exclusion of "gender identity disorders" so narrowly as to not cover what the plaintiff herself pleaded was a "Gender Identity Disorder." The Court went on to deny the motion to dismiss. The decision is likely not immediately appealable, but it's an issue that may find its way to the Third Circuit eventually.