A Game-Changer in Debate over Title IX and Gender Identity

April 21, 2016Articles

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of transgender male student, Gavin Grimm, earlier this week. Grimm had challenged Gloucester High School’s discriminatory restroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers by requiring them to use “alternative, private” facilities. In particular, the Court ruled that a transgender high school student who was born as a female can sue his school board on discrimination grounds because it banned him from the boys’ bathroom. West Virginia is located within the Fourth Circuit, as such, this decision has a legal and binding impact on public schools in West Virginia.

Grimm, who was born with female anatomy, came out as male to his classmates and began using the boys’ bathroom his sophomore year. Parents raised concerns with the school board, prompting the district to pass a policy that requires students to use school bathrooms corresponding with their “biological gender” and indicates transgender students should use a separate, unisex bathroom. Grimm has asserted that the school board violated Title IX, a law banning sex discrimination in schools, when the board prevented him from using boys' restrooms.

This ruling marks the first time a federal appeals court has determined Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use sex segregated facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.

In particular, the Court ordered a lower court to rehear Grimm’s claims that the school board’s bathroom policies, which restrict transgender students to using a separate unisex bathroom, violate federal law. The Court also ruled that the lower court should reconsider a request that would have allowed Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom while the case is pending. In sum, the Court ruled Grimm has an argument that his school board violated his rights, but the Court did not decide whether transgender students faced discrimination in Gloucester, leaving that question to the lower court.

In backing Grimm, the Court deferred to the U.S. Education Department’s position that transgender students should have access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities rather than being forced to use bathrooms that match their biological sex. The department has said requiring transgender students to use a bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex amounts to a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

This opinion is binding in all the states in the Fourth Circuit, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. That means Grimm’s victory sets a precedent for students who might challenge laws prohibiting transgender people from using public restrooms for the gender they identify with in these states. We will monitor this case moving forward given the legal impact on West Virginia public schools.

The ruling can be found at: http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/GLOUCESTER_CA4_20160420.pdf

Should you have any questions on this issue or any issues, please contact a member of Dinsmore & Shohl's Education Law Practice Group.