Fourth Circuit Rules Gender Dysphoria is Covered by the ADA

On August 16, 2022, a federal circuit court ruled that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers gender dysphoria. The case, Williams v. Kincaid, was not an employment case – but it will most likely have significant implications in the employment context (as well as other cases involving government services and public accommodations), as the Fourth Circuit is the first appellate court to decide this issue.  

According to the DSM-5, gender dysphoria is the “clinically significant distress” felt by some of those who experience “an incongruence between their gender identity and assigned sex.”  As alleged in Williams’ complaint, gender dysphoria is “a disability suffered by many (but certainly not all) transgender people.” The Fourth Circuit has now recognized that for those who experience the condition, gender dysphoria is a protected disability under the ADA.   

In the 2020 Bostock case, the US Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender.  In the Fourth Circuit, transgender or other individuals who experience gender dysphoria are now also entitled to protections under the ADA, including the right to reasonable accommodation. Employers operating in the Fourth Circuit that jurisdiction (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland) should treat requests for accommodation from those suffering from gender dysphoria as they would treat any other disability-related accommodation request. Employers in all jurisdictions should be mindful of the rationale behind the decision when considering accommodation requests, and of course, should treat all employees with respect and with an eye towards preventing discrimination or harassment in the workplace.   

If you have questions about your rights or the rights of your employees, please contact Megan Moritz or one of our BrownWinick employment law attorneys.