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December 11, 2015

Court Hears Argument on Transgender Exclusion in Americans with Disabilities Act

The federal district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard argument yesterday in Blatt v. Cabela’s Retail, a case that challenges the transgender exclusion written into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).The hearing marked the first opportunity for the constitutional arguments for striking the exclusion to be fully laid out in court.

Sidney Gold, Neelima Vanguri and Brian Farrell of Sidney Gold Associate LP; Kevin Barry, Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University; Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director; and Christine Duffy, Senior Staff Attorney at Pro Bono Partnership and author of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Practical Guide

U.S. District Judge Joseph Leeson presided over argument for close to an hour on the retail chain’s motion to dismiss claims brought by transgender former employee Kate Lynn Blatt under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, on the grounds that Cabela’s discriminated against her based on her sex; and the ADA, on the grounds that Cabela’s refused to reasonably accommodate Ms. Blatt when the store denied her use of an appropriate restroom and the ability to wear a nametag with her correct name.  

“Blatt’s case presents a critical issue of first impression on the question of the constitutionality of the exclusion of transgender people from the ADA,” said Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who is providing ongoing consultation in the case. “I’m gratified that the judge gave thoughtful attention to the arguments for striking the exclusion, and hopeful that we’ll see the right outcome.”

Law Professor at Quinnipiac University and co-counsel for amici, Kevin Barry, spoke on behalf of several advocacy organizations, including GLAD, who argue the discriminatory exclusion violates constitutionally protected equality guarantees, and that by maintaining it the ADA perpetrates the very thing it seeks to dismantle: “the prejudiced attitudes and ignorance of others” and the ‘inferior status’ that people with disabilities – or those “regarded-as” by others as having a disability – occupy in society.”

The United States has also weighed in on the exclusion for the first time in the case, urging the court in a statement filed November 16 not to interpret the ADA to exclude transgender people.

Attorney Brian Farrell argued on behalf of Plaintiff Blatt who is also represented by Sidney L. Gold and Neelima Vanguri of Sidney L. Gold & Associates. 

Read more about the case