On Thursday, however, a judge's ruling in a lawsuit could have long-lasting implications in how transgender individuals are treated in the eyes of the law.
As Reuters notes, a U.S. district judge has ruled that a transgender woman can proceed with a sexual discrimination lawsuit that she brought against her employer, Cabela's Inc., back in 2014.
What makes the case especially noteworthy is that she had filed her lawsuit “under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even though it explicitly excludes transgender people from protection.”
The 36-year-old plaintiff, Kate Lynn Blatt, says that — before she was fired from her job at popular sporting outfitters Cabela's — she was the victim of sex discrimination.
Blatt alleges that she was temporarily forced to wear a nametag with her male birth name, was forced to use the men's bathroom at work, and that fellow employees called her things like “ladyboy,” “freak,” and “sinner.”
Alternatively, Cabela's maintains that Blatt was fired because “she threatened a co-worker's child during an altercation at work” — something that Blatt denies ever happened.
Legally speaking, however, it's the decision to allow Blatt to pursue her lawsuit under the ADA that is so groundbreaking.
As American Bar Association Journal explains:
The ADA says the term “disability” does not include “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”
While the American Psychiatric Association also does not consider being transgender a “disorder,” it does recognize a condition know as “gender dysphoria” — in which there is “a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender” and the one with which they identify.
The association notes that gender dysphoria can result in “significant distress and/or problems functioning.”
In his ruling on Thursday, District Judge Joseph Leeson determined that Blatt should not be excluded from the ADA's coverage of “disabling conditions” because her “gender dysphoria ... substantially limits her major life activities of interacting with others, reproducing, and social and occupational functioning.”
Cabela's, which could still choose appeal the ruling in the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, has yet to respond to Judge Leeson's decision.
Blatt's lawyer, Neelima Vanguri, has said that she hopes Leeson's ruling will pave the way for other transgender individuals to seek protection under the ADA, noting that she is “hopeful we will be able to expand civil rights for transgender people just a little,” Reuters reported.