A jury in Jackson County, Missouri, has awarded more than $4 million to a transgender student who was barred from the boys’ restroom and locker rooms at his school due to his gender identity.
The jury found that the Blue Springs R-IV School District discriminated against former student RJ Appleberry on the basis of sex when school officials at both Delta Woods Middle School and the Freshman Center barred him from accessing the boys’ restroom and locker rooms.
In total, the jury awarded $175,000 to Appleberry in compensatory damages, in addition to the $4 million in punitive damages, reports The Associated Press. Appleberry’s legal team has also requested that the school district pay the costs of attorneys’ fees incurred by Appleberry in bringing the lawsuit.
The jury’s decision comes after years of legal wrangling, beginning in 2015 when Appleberry sued the district for discrimination.
Appleberry, now a college student, first began transitioning at age nine. In 2010, he changed his name to reflect his gender identity. In 2014, he successfully petitioned to amend his birth certificate to reflect his true name and gender identity. But school officials balked at allowing Appleberry to use facilities designated for male students, regardless of the gender listed on his birth certificate.
Appleberry participated in boys’ physical education class and sports at Delta Woods Middle School, including the eighth grade boys’ football and track teams, but was forced to use a “separate, single-person, unisex bathroom” instead of the boys’ locker room, according to the lawsuit. However, the next year, he chose not to participate in sports while enrolled at the Freshman Center during the 2014-2015 school year due to the administrator-imposed ban — something that made him feel isolated and singled out.
The lawsuit, which was filed a few months after Appleberry filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in late 2014, alleged that school officials banned Appleberry because of his transgender status and because he was “alleged to have female genitalia.”
“Upon information and belief, Defendants do not speculate, inspect, or otherwise inquire as to the genitalia of other male students,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants have discriminated and continue to discriminate against Plaintiff R.M.A. based on his sex.”
Appleberry’s lawsuit was dismissed by a Jackson County circuit judge, but the student’s lawyers appealed, with the case eventually going before the Missouri Supreme Court. In 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in Appleberry’s favor, finding that transgender individuals can pursue lawsuits alleging discrimination based on sex and sex stereotyping. That meant Appleberry’s lawsuit was restored, allowing his lawyers to pursue the case on its merits, and resulting in this week’s jury verdict.
A spokesperson for the Blue Springs School District told Fox News that it disagrees with the verdict and will be “seeking appropriate relief from the trial court and court of appeals if necessary.”
Three separate federal appeals courts have previously ruled on behalf of transgender students — Virginia’s Gavin Grimm, Florida’s Drew Adams, and Wisconsin’s Ashton Whitaker — finding that school policies barring them from facilities matching their gender identity are both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Still, lawsuits from transgender students alleging discrimination continue to abound, as do policies imposed by conservative-led school districts seeking to bar students from using restrooms that match their gender identity.
Most recently, an Iowa transgender student was barred from the boys’ restroom due to concerns about other students’ potential discomfort, despite previously having used male-designated facilities, without incident, for more than a year-and-a-half.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!