Kate Lynn Blatt, a resident in rural Pennsylvania, was born a man but privately lived at home as a woman. His job at the battery factory was making his dual life complex and unmanageable. Each time he stepped into the shower at work to wash away the risks of chemical exposure he caked on layers of anxiety over his developing breasts. So he finally announced his transition as Kate to his coworkers. Yet days later an on-the-job confrontation with a coworker’s husband led Kate to quit to pursue a fresh start.
Work at Cabela’s
Blatt, a proud firearms owner, grew up hunting and fishing in rural Pennsylvania. A new opportunity at Cabela’s working with firearms, hunting gear and accessories seemed to be a perfect fit.
Cabela’s, Inc. is an outdoor equipment and apparel retailer like Bass Pro Shop. The retailer was hiring seasonal workers for their rural outdoor center 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Kate said her first day at her new job was the most liberating thing she had ever experienced. She was celebrating her accomplishment because she had finally finished her six-year-transition and now fully identified as a woman. But problems at Cabela’s arose almost immediately. Soon after she started, the retailer told Kate she could only use the men’s room. After more disputes, Blatt says Cabela’s directed her to exclusively use the family gender-neutral restroom. Cabela’s required Blatt to wear a name tag that matched her birth name. Even after Blatt legally changed her name and gender from James to Kate with the state of Pennsylvania, Blatt says the retailer continued to require her to wear the James name tag.
Blatt, now 35, is suing Cabela’s for sex discrimination. She claims humiliation by superiors and coworkers during the six months of employment.
Connection to Senator Jesse Helms
In a preview of North Carolina’s bathroom court battle, Blatt claims Cabela’s denied her access to a bathroom matching her gender-identity. In addition, the 2014 Pennsylvania lawsuit brought by Blatt, challenges a little-known clause in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as discriminatory because it specifically excludes transgender people from protection. Blatt’s lawyers are asking the judge to rule that the clause of the ADA violates the US Constitution because it denies equal protection for all under the law.
The ADA was landmark legislation that expanded the rights of disabled people. The late Jesse Helms, a Republican senator from North Carolina, led the effort to have disability exceptions written into the law. The law says “disability” shall not include “transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders.”
Transgender Court Battles
The Blatt case appears to be a direct challenge to the legality of the Helms exclusion. In December the Justice Department filed a petition requesting he ignore the ADA exclusion to avoid a constitutional problem. Judges prefer to settle disputes on narrow grounds, but the Blatt case appears to be a broad and direct challenge. Her attorneys have alleged codified discrimination in the ADA law.
Transgender Americans, an estimated 0.3% of the population, see Kate’s case seeking justice for a disability to be somewhat controversial.
While Blatt’s case plays out in Pennsylvania, the transgender controversy has spread to more than a dozen states. The states are suing the Obama administration over its transgender education directive. The US Fourth Circuit of Appeals is hearing a case over a Virginia students’ use of facilities matching his identity. The lower courts have agreed with the Justice Department’s interpretation of transgender civil rights. In the next ninety days most expect the Virginia School Board to file a review request to the Supreme Court.