Metro Weekly

Appeals court rules in favor of trans student over bathroom policy lawsuit

Appeals court restores Title IX claim in Gavin Grimm's lawsuit to use the boys' restroom

Gavin Grimm and legal team - Photo: via ACLUVA.org

Gavin Grimm and legal team – Photo: via ACLUVA.org

On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the rejection of a preliminary injunction and restored part of an anti-discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender student in Gloucester County. The student, Gavin Grimm, is challenging a policy adopted by the Gloucester County School Board that prevents him from using the restroom consistent with his gender identity, instead relegating him to an “alternative, private” facility.

The 2-1 ruling in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board marks the first time that a federal appeals court had determined that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. In restoring the lawsuit and overruling the lower court’s rejection of the injunction, the majority deferred to the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation that anti-transgender discrimination constitutes a violation of Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex. 

“Because we conclude the district court did not accord appropriate deference to the relevant Department of Education regulations, we reverse its dismissal of G.G.’s Title IX claim,” Judge Henry Franklin Floyd wrote for the majority. “Because we conclude that the district court used the wrong evidentiary standard in assessing G.G.’s motion for a preliminary injunction, we vacate its denial and remand for consideration under the correct standard. We therefore reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Floyd, an Obama appointee to the circuit court, was joined by fellow Obama appointee Andre Davis in ruling in Grimm’s favor. Judge Paul Niemeyer, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dissented arguing that he would not have granted either the preliminary injunction or allowed Grimm’s legal team to move forward with its Title IX claim.

“I feel so relieved and vindicated by the court’s ruling,” Grimm said in a statement. “Today’s decision gives me hope that my fight will help other kids avoid discriminatory treatment at school.”

The case has been remanded back to Judge Robert Doumar, who previously refused to grant the injunction and dismissed Grimm’s claim of discrimination under Title IX. All three judges rejected Grimm’s request that the case be assigned to another judge, despite comments made in court by Doumar that seemed to show prejudice against Grimm and expressed skepticism about medical or scientific information related to gender identity. Grimm’s lawyers will now be able to argue that Gloucester County’s restroom policy for transgender students violates both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In terms of the injunction, the court has remanded the decision back to Doumar to apply the principles laid out by the majority in their opinion and use those to determine whether to grant an injunction, which would allow Grimm to use the boys’ restroom, as he did for successfully and without incident in the previous school year. It was only after concerned parents and socially conservative special interest groups learned of Grimm’s restroom usage that they tried to intimidate school board members into banning him — and by extension, other transgender students — from the restroom consistent with his gender identity.

Ilona Turner, legal director of Transgender Law Center, says that, with respect to the injunction, the 4th Circuit is “essentially pointing the district court to exactly what the district court better conclude, in light of the undisputed facts of the case and what the Court of Appeals has laid out about what the law is under Title IX.”

“The court has made very, very clear that the district court has no choice but to strike down the school district’s policy, and require the school to allow Gavin to use the restroom that matches his gender identity,” Turner says. “Because this decision is so broad in its holding, it will apply to virtually any case brought within the 4th Circuit about similar policies that discriminate against transgender people prohibiting them from using facilities that match who they are.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing Grimm, released a statement hailing the court’s decision as a “vindication” for their client, while also noting that it should send a message to other school districts and legislators pushing anti-trans “bathroom bills” that excluding transgender students from restrooms constitutes “unlawful sex discrimination.”

“Gavin’s fight has been a beacon of hope in the face of increasingly hostile rhetoric against transgender people in Virginia, and across the nation,” said Gail Deady, the Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia. “The court’s ruling sends a strong message to schools and lawmakers that discriminatory restroom policies don’t just harm transgender students, they put Title IX funding at risk.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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