The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review an appeals-court ruling in favor of a trans woman who alleged her rights were violated because she had been held in a men’s unit at the Fairfax County jail.
The impactful ruling kind of slid under the radar on Friday as the Trump-packed high court handed down rulings on affirmative action, student loans and LGBTQ+ accommodations.
“By declining to hear this case, the Supreme Court implicitly acknowledges what those who have seriously examined the issue have concluded: the ADA protects people who experience gender dysphoria, including transgender and nonbinary people, from being discriminated against on that basis,” said Olivia Hunt, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
An appeals court had ruled in favor of allowing the lawsuit filed by former inmate Kesha Williams, who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, to go forward.
Her attorneys argued in court filings that the condition qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Williams was held in a Fairfax County jail for six months in 2020 stemming from charges on a drug-related offense.
According to court filings, Williams, who was classified as a male because she “maintains the male genitalia with which she was born,” had lived as a woman prior to being jailed, held a Maryland state driver’s license identifying her as a woman, and had received hormone theraphy for 15 years to treat gender dysphoria.
According to her suit, Williams was denied the prescribed hormone treatment by her jailers for two weeks, a delay that she said caused “severe anxiety and distress.”
A federal district court dismissed her suit, ruling that Williams did not have a disability covered by the ADA, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower-court ruling, finding that gender dysphoria is protected under the ADA.
The move by the Supreme Court to allow Williams’ suit to proceed could have far-reaching implications.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ people, and today’s decision means the ADA remains a mechanism that can help our communities secure those protections,” Hunt said.