The unanimous ruling of the Appellate Division of Superior Court reversed a lower court’s decision, reinstating a 1998 wrongful-termination lawsuit by Carla Enriquez, a doctor who sued West Jersey Health Systems, now known as Virtua Health.
The case raised the issue of whether gender dysphoria, or transsexualism, is a handicap under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The decision is consistent with a series of decisions by the New Jersey Supreme Court in recent years that have expanded the definition of handicap under the law to include substance abuse and obesity, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Carlos Enriquez was hired in November 1995 as the medical director of the outpatient West Jersey Center for Behavior, Learning and Attention. Within a year, he shaved his facial hair, sculpted and waxed his eyebrows, pierced his ears, and started to grow breasts. By early 1997, his superiors confronted him about the changes.
In July 1997, Enriquez was given 90 days’ notice that his contract would be terminated without cause, as permitted by the terms of the contract.
A year later, Enriquez underwent a sex change, legally changed his name to Carla, and sued for wrongful termination. The suit made various claims, including gender discrimination, sexual discrimination, and disability discrimination.
A Superior Court judge dismissed the suit before trial, saying that Enriquez could not claim sexual or gender discrimination because she was not gay or accused of being gay and that the legislature had not intended to protect transsexuals.
While acknowledging the differing conclusions of other state courts, the New Jersey judges said they based their decision on “our own state’s historic policy of liberally construing” the antidiscrimination law.
“It is incomprehensible to us that our legislature . . . would condone discrimination against men or women who seek to change their anatomical sex because they suffer from a gender-identity disorder,” the court wrote in its decision.
The appeals court also noted that the federal Americans With Disabilities Act excluded transsexualism from legal protection, along with pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and “other sexual-behavior disorders.” But the New Jersey court said that, unlike the other disorders, transsexualism does not violate the law.
The court agreed with the lower court that Enriquez had no claim to sexual discrimination, but found she had a case for gender discrimination and disability discrimination.