“We have little trouble concluding that a law excluding from ADA protection both ‘gender identity disorders’ and gender dysphoria would discriminate against transgender people as a class, implicating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the ruling read, referring to a constitutional clause that has been used in court to protect minority groups from discrimination.
The case at hand concerned Kesha Williams, a trans woman with gender dysphoria who was held for six months at a Virginia prison.
“Though prison deputies initially assigned her to women’s housing, they quickly moved her to men’s housing when they learned that she was transgender,” according to the ruling, which said that while held in the men’s facility, Williams “experienced delays in medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, harassment by other inmates, and persistent and intentional misgendering and harassment by prison deputies.”
Williams sued several individuals connected to the prison, claiming that the way she was treated was a violation of the ADA and other laws.
The appeals court, citing an updated medical understanding, reversed the lower court’s dismissal.
“In sum, we hold that Williams has plausibly alleged that gender dysphoria does not fall within the ADA’s exclusion for ‘gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments,'” the ruling said.
CNN reached out to attorneys for several of the defendants named in the case for comment.
Though the matter still needs to go back to a lower court to settle additional questions central to the case, Joshua Erlich, an attorney for Williams, told CNN that Tuesday’s ruling “is a really meaningful win for trans people more broadly because this opinion applies not just (to) people who are incarcerated, but for workplace accommodations, for public accommodations.”
He continued: “I think that this ruling in a lot of ways was mandated by the language in Bostock. To the extent that Bostock has created a positive trajectory for trans rights, this is a continuation of that.”
A number of advocacy groups signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief for the case co-authored by the LGBTQ legal rights group GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). In a statement following the ruling, NCLR’s legal director Shannon Minter said that the “decision sets a powerful precedent that will be important for other courts considering this critical issue.”
And Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, said in the same statement that it “would turn disability law upside down to exclude someone from its protection because of having a stigmatized medical condition.”
“This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive,” Levi said.
CNN’s Kristen Rogers contributed to this report.