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Groundbreaking Federal Court Ruling Could Affect New Jersey Transgender Employees in the Future

A headline-making new federal court ruling regarding discrimination and the rights of transgender people in the workplace may not immediately affect workers in New Jersey, but it could play a role in the not-too-distant future. The ruling, which allowed a trans woman to pursue a disability discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act, is not binding in New Jersey federal cases right now, but it could become so if the Third Circuit of Appeals reaches the issue and adopts the lower court’s conclusion.

The employee in this case was a trans woman who worked at an outdoor goods store’s Hamburg, Pa. location. According to the employee’s complaint, the employer originally allowed her to use the women’s restroom, but it later reversed that and demanded that she use the men’s restroom. Additionally, the employer allegedly gave her an employee nametag with her birth name of “James,” as opposed to her preferred name of “Kate Lynn.” Moreover, the employee asserted that co-workers were ordered by the employer to call her “James” or risk being terminated. The employee received many offensive comments and questions from co-workers, but, even though she complained to a supervisor, the employer took no action, she alleged.

All of this led the employee to sue the employer for the mistreatment she endured. In this case, though, the employee took a novel approach to recovery. Instead of accusing the employer of violating Title VII, she asserted a claim against her employer accusing it of running afoul of the ADA. The employee alleged that she was not simply a transgender person, but that she had gender dysphoria, that she was disabled by this condition, and that the employer discriminated against her based upon this disability.

The employer asked the trial court to issue a summary judgment in its favor, which would have ended the employee’s ADA case before it ever went to trial had the employer won. The trial court, however, rejected the motion. The trial judge concluded that, although the ADA does limit transgender people’s abilities to sue for disability discrimination in certain situations, this employee’s gender dysphoria case was not prohibited by the statute.

According to the judge, while the statute does not allow people with gender identity disorders to advance ADA claims, gender dysphoria was something more. “Gender identity disorders” could be read to mean simply identifying with a gender different from the one assigned at one’s birth. A condition like this employee’s gender dysphoria, by contrast, “goes beyond merely identifying with a different gender and is characterized by clinically significant stress and other impairments that may be disabling.” These “other impairments” included difficulties with “major life activities of interacting with others, reproducing, and social and occupational functioning.”

If this employee’s case makes it all the way to the Third Circuit, and that court upholds what this judge determined, that ruling would have legal effect in ADA cases in New Jersey, potentially giving transgender workers a powerful new tool in federal actions. Of course, transgender workers in New Jersey already have a powerful state law tool in New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. The LAD prohibits discrimination based upon both gender identity and expression.

Whether you are proceeding in federal court or state court and alleging state law or federal law claims, you need experienced counsel on your side familiar with these laws and these types of cases. The diligent New Jersey gender identity discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been defending workers in all types of discrimination cases for many years and are ready to talk to you about your case. Contact us online or at (619) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.

More blog posts:

Fired New Jersey Catholic School Counselor Allowed to Continue Pursuit of Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2017

Workplace Discrimination Against LGBT People and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, March 22, 2017

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