Category Archives: ADA

Yes, Kate Lynn, Gender Dysphoria Can Be a Disability

The popular press has touted as “unprecedented” a decision in May by a federal judge in Pennsylvania that a transgender employee could move forward with her suit for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

But the reality of Blatt v. Cabela’s Retail, Inc., is not quite as novel as the press would suggest.  Rather than recognize being transgendered as a disability per se, the court simply acknowledged that Kate Lynn Blatt’s claim of “Gender Dysphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder,” which caused her severe physical and psychological distress, could qualify as a disability under the ADA.

Judge Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. rendered the decision carefully, to avoid ruling on Blatt’s constitutional challenge to the statutory language of the ADA, which expressly excludes from the definition of covered disabilities “homosexuality and bisexuality,” “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments,” and “sexual behavior disorders,” among other conditions.

Rather than determine whether such exclusions deny equal protection to individuals because of their sex, in violation of the Constitution and following the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Leeson focused on the specific allegations in the complaint.  He noted that Blatt did not merely allege that she was disabled because she has gender dysphoria.  Instead, she specifically pled how the condition caused her clinically significant stress and other impairments that substantially limited her major life activities, including “interacting with others, reproducing and social and occupational functioning.”

The exclusions of the ADA are to be construed narrowly, Judge Leeson ruled, while conversely, the coverage of the ADA “must be broadly construed” to effect its purpose of “eliminate[ing] discrimination against the disabled in all facets of society.”  As such, her claim of a disability of gender identity disorder was allowed to proceed, despite the statute’s express exclusion of “gender identity disorders.”

No doubt that this is a victory for the transgendered community, because some claims of gender identity disorder may now proceed, despite the exclusion.  But at its heart, the ruling simply reaffirms an ADA basic: an employee claiming disability discrimination must identify how he or she is substantially limited in a major life activity.  Merely putting a label on the condition – such as “gender dysphoria” or “diabetic” — will not be dispositive for or against the claim.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department atFlaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

Disabled employee loses ADA claim for refusing to try accommodation.

An employee who refuses to try a reasonable accommodation that the employer offers for her disability loses her ability to claim a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the United States Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit ruled recently.

In Yovtcheva v. City of Philadelphia Water Department, plaintiff Silvia Yovtcheva, a chemist, claimed she was suffering health problems that were caused by exposure to a particular chemical with which she had to work. The Water Department offered her a partial-face respirator (which expert testimony later established would have addressed her health problems), but she refused to try it.

As a result of her refusal to try the respirator, which the Third Circuit found was a reasonable accommodation, the court determined that she was not a qualified individual with a disability and could not maintain a claim for disability discrimination against the defendant.

This decision reinforces the fact that the ADA is a two-way street.  Both the employer and the employee must engage in the interactive process to identify accommodations for any disability.  Once a disability is established, neither side can back out of the process and expect to prevail.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

Performance Problem + Disability = Request for Accommodation?

Federal law and court decisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act have long held, in general, that an employee must request an accommodation for his or her disability before the employer has a duty to explore accommodation options.

But recent case law and updated EEOC regulations make clear that when an employee identifies a disability as a cause for his or her performance problems, the employee has put the employer on notice of a possible need for an accommodation. This triggers an employer’s duty to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine whether the disability can be reasonably accommodated.

In Thomas v. Bala Nursing & Retirement Center (E.D. Pa. 2012), for example, a nurse defeated summary judgment when she communicated that her attendance problems were the result of severe fatigue caused by anemia, but did not explicitly ask for a reasonable accommodation. The federal court held that the notice requirement for an accommodation under the ADA is met when the “employee provides the employer with enough information that, under the circumstances, the employer can be fairly said to know of both the disability and desire for the accommodation.”

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

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