CHICAGO — A legal debate is now brewing over whether transgender employees should be legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly given a spate of recent rulings, including from a Chicago federal appeals court, finding they may already be protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well.

Recently, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled an employee can proceed with her ADA claims against a former employer she has accused of discriminating against her.

Kate Lynn Blatt filed suit against Cabela’s Retails Inc., alleging the sporting goods retailer violated her civil rights by allowing co-workers to regularly make “degrading and discriminatory” comments about her because she is transgender and suffers from gender dysphoria.

“It’s hard to say how much this will really change things for employers, but it is clearly something else for them to consider if and when they are ever faced with such a situation or employee,” Anne Yuengert, a partner at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, in Birmingham, Ala.

Blatt alleged she was constantly denied reasonable work accommodations for her gender dysphoria condition, including uniform requirements. Gender dysphoria was defined in the court documents as “feelings of distress over one’s gender at birth.” 

Blatt further claimed she was ultimately showed the door by Cabela’s in retaliation for her persistent complaints. Her suit was ultimately filed under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and ADA statutes.

Should the case is allowed to proceed, Yuengert said employers may soon find themselves facing a two-pronged risk, should transgender employees come to feel violated by the way they are treated.

“I would advise (employers) to concentrate on keeping workers as comfortable and as at ease as possible so they can remain as productive as they can be,” Yuengert said. “That’s the exact same approach you would expect a good boss to take with any other worker.”

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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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