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Fourth Circuit Extends ADA Protection to Americans Suffering from Gender Dysphoria

By: Andrew Silverio, Esq.

This August, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Williams v. Kincaid extended ADA protections to those suffering from gender dysphoria.  The case related to the treatment of plaintiff Kesha Williams, a transgendered woman, while housed in a Virginia prison, but the holding has important implications in the workplace context.

According to the pleadings and decision, Williams was wrongly housed in the male side of the prison, denied appropriate medical treatment including hormone therapy, and subjected to various forms of neglect and abuse in violation of the ADA.  After the case was dismissed at the district level, the Fourth Circuit held on review that there is nothing in the ADA preventing its protections from being extended to individuals based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.  Of particular note is the court’s discussion of gender dysphoria itself: the term is often used synonymously with gender identity disorder or with simply being transgendered – the court examined medical evidence and explained that gender dysphoria represents “the distress and other disabling symptoms” that often come with being transgender.  In other words, while being transgender itself is not a disability, gender dysphoria can certainly qualify.

This holding has important implications in the employment realm, and employers should take note, particularly in light of the current administration’s position on Section 1557 and a clear trend toward affording more protections to transgendered individuals.  As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to PGCReferral@phiagroup.com with any questions.