Landmark ruling in transgender discrimination case

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers in Texas and around the country from discriminating against workers because of physical or mental impairments that limit one or more of their major life functions. However, the 1990 law specifically excludes certain conditions. Those that are related to illegal or harmful activities like drug use, gambling and arson are not covered by the law, and neither are conditions that deal with sexual orientation and identity.

Employers have argued successfully that these provisions mean that discrimination against transgender workers is not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a federal judge made a landmark ruling on May 18 that has been warmly welcomed by LGBT advocacy groups including the Transgender Rights Project. While the judge conceded that gender identity is not covered under the law, he ruled that the associated psychological condition gender dysmorphia is.

The case involved a transgender woman who claimed that she was fired after complaining about discrimination in the workplace. She says that she was regularly taunted by her coworkers and required to use the men's restroom and wear a name tag with her birth name on it. This practice, which is known as deadnaming in LGBT circles, is considered particularly cruel by transgender individuals. The employer involved argued that this still amounted to discrimination based on sexual identity and was therefore not within the scope of the ADA, but the judge ruled that federal law did apply because the harassment aggravated a covered medical condition.

Attorneys with employment law experience may understand how it can be difficult for workers to come forward when they have been subjected to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The thought of facing their employers in court can be a daunting one, and this may be especially true when discrimination cases stray into areas where the law is far from settled. Attorneys may seek to ease these concerns by explaining that legislation like the ADA and Civil Rights Act was passed to protect the vulnerable, and they could also point out that employers who retaliate against workers who file complaints run the risk of facing serious sanctions.

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