A federal district judge recently issued a final ruling in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm. The ruling marks an end to a long legal process that began in 2015, with stops in the district court, court of appeals and U.S. Supreme Court along the way.
In 2014, Gavin was prohibited from accessing the boys’ restrooms or locker rooms, due to a policy adopted by his school district in Gloucester County, Virginia. The policy required students to use facilities that corresponded to their “biological genders,” and provided alternative facilities for students with “gender identity issues.” The case raised several legal questions about the applicability of Title IX provisions to transgender students and the U.S. Department of Education’s evolving interpretation of the duties owed by districts to their transgender students.
In her Aug. 9 decision, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen held that claims of discrimination on the basis of transgender status may be brought under a gender-stereotyping theory covered by Title IX. She found that Gavin’s rights under both Title IX and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution were violated by the district’s policy that denied him access to the facilities that corresponded with his gender identity.
Grimm’s legal journey began in 2015, when a federal district judge denied his request to allow him access to the boys’ facilities. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court incorrectly denied Grimm’s request and gave deference to the federal government's position at the time that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use school bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Since then, the case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals after the federal government rescinded its guidance in 2017. The Fourth Circuit returned the case to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia which issued the final ruling summarized above.
While the recent decision is not binding on Ohio school districts, it is persuasive authority for federal courts ruling on similar cases across the country. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, has also ruled on this issue. In Dodds v. United States Dept. of Edn., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that public interest weighed strongly in favor of allowing an 11-year-old transgender student to use the restroom that corresponded with her gender identity.
OSBA encourages districts to continue working with students requesting accommodations on a case-by-case basis, through interaction with the student and the district’s board counsel. For additional information, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services. For specific information about the impact of this decision and others on your district, please contact your district’s legal counsel.
*OSBA wishes to thank Capital University Law School student and OSBA intern Gamaliel Narvaez for his contributions to this article.