Trans woman gets favorable PHRC ruling
by Timothy Cwiek
May 20, 2010 | 3443 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has ruled that a transgender woman probably was discriminated against when she was denied access to the women’s restroom at her former job.

Kate Lynn Blatt, of Pottsville, worked at Cabela’s Retail Store Inc. from September 2006 until March 2007 as a seasonal stocker. She earned about $400 weekly, she said.

The store, located in Hamburg, is part of a chain that specializes in outdoor hunting and fishing equipment.

At the time she was hired, Blatt was in the process of transitioning from James to Kate Lynn.

Blatt said she was grateful to be hired, but began experiencing problems with Cabela’s management almost immediately.

“One of the early problems was getting permission to wear a female uniform,” Blatt said. “I had to constantly ask management for about a week, before they finally gave me permission.”

In January 2007, Blatt presented her employer with a court order, stating that her name is Kate Lynn Blatt, and that her gender is female.

Due to the court order, she requested permission to use the female employees’ restroom at the worksite, according to PHRC records.

In February 2007, Blatt’s employer denied her request, and instead required that she use a “unisex” public restroom until she provided medical documentation of her “anatomically appropriate gender,” according to PHRC records.

The unisex restroom was a five-minute walk from Blatt’s work location, and not as clean and hygienic as the women’s restroom, Blatt told PGN.

“I felt like I was on parade every time I had to walk to the unisex restroom,” said Blatt, 29. “It was on a different floor, and I had to go from one end of the building to the other [end]. The store is enormous.”

When Blatt expressed dissatisfaction with the situation, she found herself the target of allegedly “fictitious” accusations of inappropriate workplace conduct, she said.

Blatt also said she had problems getting an appropriate employee nametag from management.

“They misspelled my name several times, and never gave me a nametag with my full name, Kate Lynn,” she recalled. “The best I got from them was a name tag that said ‘Kate.’”

In March 2007, after several disputes with management, Blatt was discharged from the job.

“Not only did they discriminate against me because I’m a female, but when I voiced concerns about that discrimination, I was fired,” she said. “When something like that happens, you feel like you got kicked in the stomach.”

In August 2007, Blatt filed a complaint with the PHRC, alleging discrimination because of her sex, and also because of retaliation when she complained of differential treatment based on her sex.

Two months ago, the PHRC issued a probable-cause finding, stating that Blatt probably was discriminated against — and retaliated against — by Cabela’s.

“Male employees are not required to leave their work area and walk long distances in order to use the restroom and are not denied access to gender-specific restrooms,” the PHRC finding stated. “No male employee was required to use the unisex restroom. [Cabela’s] did not require that any male employee present evidence of male genitalia in order to use the male restroom.”

The finding reiterates that Blatt is legally a female.

“[Blatt] was subjected to different treatment because, although she was legally female, she was not permitted to use the women’s restroom unless and until she provides medical documentation of her anatomically-appropriate gender,” the PHRC finding stated.

Cabela’s recently filed a motion with the PHRC, seeking reconsideration of the probable-cause finding and dismissal of Blatt’s complaint.

The motion contends that Blatt isn’t a female. It also states that Blatt is complaining of “gender-identity” discrimination, which isn’t covered under state law.

Rick L. Etter, an attorney for Cabela’s, declined to comment for this story.

Due to Cabela’s motion, Blatt said it could take another year or so before her case is resolved, but she’s up for the challenge. “I’ve become a full-time trans activist, because of this case and other situations I’ve dealt with,” she said.

She said most of her coworkers at Cabela’s were supportive, and had no problem with her use of the women’s restroom.

Items to be discussed in the settlement process include compensation for Blatt’s lost wages, payment of interest for back-pay liability computed at the rate of 6 percent per year, reasonable and verifiable expenses incurred by Blatt while pursuing her discrimination complaint, and a written policy stating that Cabela’s will not discriminate on the basis of gender, according to PHRC records.

“I won’t even consider settling unless Cabela’s adopts a nondiscrimination policy that clearly covers transgender people, and that offers guidelines in dealing with employees who are transitioning,” Blatt said.

She also expressed thanks to the PHRC.

“I’m impressed with the efforts of the commission, and although it’s frustrating that the complaint is taking so long to resolve, I understand they have procedures to follow,” Blatt said. “It’s been a very long process.”

Shannon Powers, a PHRC spokesperson, said she couldn’t comment on the probable-cause finding, since the case remains active.

Amara S. Chaudhry, legal director of Mazzoni Center, praised the PHRC’s ruling.

“I’m reassured that the commission is continuing to allow these sorts of claims to go forward,” Chaudhry told PGN. “I think it’s good news for trans people across the state. The commission could have refused to accept the complaint for investigation. Instead, they’ve allowed it to move forward. I just hope that justice will be served.”

Blatt also has two additional complaints pending with the PHRC. They’re against Manpower Inc., of Pottsville, and Sapa Industrial Extrusions, of Cressona. Blatt is alleging that a Manpower staffer asked her to provide photographs of her genitalia as a condition for continued employment at Sapa.

Those complaints are pending.

Timothy Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

Comments
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SteveMD2
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May 23, 2010
When you get them by the balls, or their pocketbook their hearts and minds will follow.

Cheers. Lawyers do a lot of good in some situations.