Earlier this month, two federal courts issued decisions in cases involving the rights of transgender students. These decisions should help school districts understand their legal obligations as they apply to all students. 

Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board 

On May 22, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the Gloucester County School Board’s motion to dismiss a Title IX sex discrimination claim filed against it by a transgender male student (Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. School Bd.). The court concluded that Title IX and the US Constitution protect transgender students from being excluded from restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student in the Gloucester County School District, sued the district for sex discrimination under Title IX in 2015, challenging its institution of a policy requiring that students use bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender and requiring transgender students to use separate unisex bathrooms. Grimm asked the court for a preliminary injunction allowing him to use the boys’ restroom during the school year. The court denied the preliminary injunction and dismissed Grimm’s Title IX claim.

The district court’s decision was overturned by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The district court then issued the preliminary injunction allowing Grimm to use the boys’ restroom. The school board appealed to the US Supreme Court and requested a stay to the district court’s preliminary injunction. In August 2016, the Supreme Court granted the board’s request for a stay of the preliminary injunction, and later sent the case back to the lower federal courts for reconsideration because the US Departments of Justice and Education had rescinded guidance on protections for transgender students under Title IX.

In its May 22 decision, the district court noted that five circuit courts have recognized that a gender stereotyping allegation can be the basis of sex discrimination under Title VII. For that reason, “allegations of gender stereotyping are … by extension … cognizable Title IX sex discrimination claims.”  

Doe v. Boyertown Area School District

On May 24, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a judgment in Doe v. Boyertown Area School Dist. In a highly unusual step, the court issued the judgment on the same day it heard oral arguments in the case. [Note: The judgment indicates that oral arguments occurred on May 24, 2017. That is a typographical error; the oral arguments were on May 24, 2018.]

In March 2017, “Joel Doe,” a male student at Boyertown Area School District filed suit challenged the district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use school facilities that corresponded to their gender identity. Doe claimed that, by allowing transgender male students to use the same bathrooms he used, the school violated his right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment and violated Title IX. Additional plaintiffs later joined Doe in the claim.

In August 2017, the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that they are likely to succeed on the merits of any of their claims and that they failed to show irreparable harm. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the 3rd Circuit. 

In a two-page judgment, the circuit court agreed with the lower court, describing its opinion as “exceptionally well reasoned.” The circuit court also stated that it would be issuing a formal opinion on the case at a later date.

The Legal Ledger will continue to follow both of these cases and others in this area. 

Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 6/1/2018