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Judge makes landmark transgender discrimination ruling

by | May 23, 2017 | Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Firm News |

A federal judge in Pennsylvania made a ruling in a workplace discrimination case on May 18 that is being hailed as a landmark decision by gay rights advocacy groups and prominent figures in the LGBT community. The judge ruled that gender dysmorphia is a covered condition under the Americans with Disabilities act even though gender identity is not. The director of the Transgender Rights Project referred to the ruling as a huge step forward for the transgender community.

The case the judge heard involved a transgender woman who claims that she was discriminated against and then fired by a Berks County retailer after her coworkers made untrue accusations about her. She also says that she was required to use the men’s bathroom and wear an identity badge featuring her birth name. This type of discrimination is known in the transgender community as deadnaming.

Gender identity disorders are among the conditions excluded by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the retailer argued that the alleged discrimination was not covered by the 1990 statute. The judge took a different position. He ruled that while the discrimination may have been based on the woman’s gender identity, it ultimately served to aggravate an accepted medical condition that does fall within the scope of the federal law. The symptoms of gender dysphoria, which is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, include anxiety, social isolation and depression.

Employers risk a great deal when they contest harassment and discrimination claims in open court. Losing such cases could trigger a flood of similar claims, and the negative publicity associated with workplace bigotry can leave hard-won corporate reputations in ruins. Attorneys with employment law experience may urge companies to settle discrimination claims quickly and discretely, and they could ask their employee clients to consider agreeing not to disclose the financial terms of the settlement.