July 27, 2015 at 6:17 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
DOJ slammed for ducking on trans exclusion in ADA

scales of justice, gay news, Washington Blade

The Justice Department ducked on whether the trans exclusion in ADA is unconstitutional. (Photo by Mbiama via Wikimedia Commons)

As civil rights advocates celebrate the 25th anniversary enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one New England-based LGBT group is criticizing the Obama administration for ducking on the issue of whether the transgender exclusion in the law is unconstitutional.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders took the Justice Department to task in a statement last week for declining to weigh in on the explicit transgender exclusion written into the 1990 law.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations and other areas, but the law explicitly states it doesn’t include “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism [and] gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments or other sexual behavior disorders.”

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s trans rights project, said the Justice Department’s decision to avoid the trans exclusion in a statement of interest filed on July 21 is “surprising and disappointing.”

“Given the rank animus behind it, the exclusion serves to marginalize and stigmatize a minority group that the DOJ has recognized needs and deserves legal protections,” Levi said.

Kate Lynn Blatt, a transgender employee at the hunter gear Cabela’s Retail, filed a discrimination claim against her employer under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the grounds the store discriminated against her based on her sex; and the ADA, on the basis the store refused to reasonably accommodate her by denying her use of a restroom consistent with her gender identity and the ability to wear a nametag with her correct name. Blair also endured harassment from supervisors and co-workers and was abruptly terminated in 2007.

In a four-page statement of interest signed by trial attorney Emily Nestler, the Justice Department asks the court to hold off on determining the constitutionality of ADA’s trans exclusion until the challenge on the basis of Title VII is resolved.

“The United States respectfully requests that the Court defer ruling upon Plaintiff’s constitutional challenge to the GID Exclusion until after the Title VII claims are resolved, as disposition of Plaintiff’s Title VII claims could resolve this case without the need to reach the constitutionality of the GID Exclusion,” the filing says. “Should the Court later determine that the constitutional issue cannot be avoided, the United States respectfully reserves the right to intervene or file a supplemental statement of interest at that time.”

In 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in the case of Macy v. Holder the gender provision under Title VII applies to workplace discrimination against people for being transgender. In a statement in December, the Justice Department followed suit, saying the U.S. government would no longer deny the law covers gender-identity discrimination.

Levi added the filing has two silver linings: the reassertion that Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination against transgender people and language that enables the Justice Department to revisit the trans exclusion at a later time.

“While we acknowledge these bright spots, the problem created by the ADA exclusion remains,” Levi said. “Congress excluded transgender people from the protections of the ADA because of the stigma associated with gender dysphoria. As long as the transgender exclusion remains within the law, the ADA fails in its promise to create a level playing field in employment for all people capable of doing the job.”

The U.S. Justice Department deferred to its filing in the case in response to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on GLAD’s criticism.

Representing Blatt is Sidney Gold, Neelima Vanguri and Brian Farrell of the Philadelphia-based Sidney L. Gold & Associates. Along with Law Professor Kevin Barry of Quinnipiac University, GLAD and other trans rights groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief in January arguing by maintaining the trans exclusion, the ADA perpetrates the kind of discrimination it seeks to dismantle.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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