Metro Weekly

Trans Man Wins $4 Million for Being Barred from Locker Room

A Missouri appeals court ruled a trans man who was barred from the boys' locker room over a decade ago should recoup $4 million in damages.

Locker room – Photo: geckophotos, via 123rf

A Missouri appeals court ruled that a transgender man is entitled to more than $4 million in damages for discrimination after being barred from the boys’ locker room when he was enrolled in public school over a decade ago.

Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court’s decision to throw out a jury verdict in favor of R.J. Appleberry, referred to in court documents as “R.M.A.”

Appleberry was a former student of Delta Woods Middle School, the Freshman Center, and Blue Springs South High School in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Anthony Gabbert wrote that the Blue Springs R-IV School District had discriminated against the former student by barring him from boys’ facilities, reports the Missouri Independent.

Gabbert noted that attorneys representing the school district did not contest Appleberry’s treatment but simply based it on his “female genitalia” rather than his gender identity.

However, the facts of the case showed that the district “did not actually determine the nature of R.M.A.’s genitalia…and does not speculate, inspect or otherwise inquire as to the genitalia of other male students.”

It was that admission of different treatment based on assumed genitalia, Gabbert wrote, that constituted a form of sex-based discrimination.

After Appleberry had his birth certificate changed to reflect his gender identity, the district continued to deny his requests to access male-designated facilities — even though it was revealed in court that the district’s informal, unwritten policy was to use the gender marker on the birth certificate to determine what locker rooms and restrooms a student may access.

“The evidence at trial…was that [Blue Springs] School District had an unwritten policy of using birth certificates to determine sex,” Gabbert wrote, noting that the school board had discussed the situation in a closed-door meeting.

“Yet, [the] school district refused to tell R.M.A.’s mother that it would honor a corrected birth certificate stating he is male because (it) wanted to keep its options open in the event R.M.A. was able to obtain a corrected birth certificate.”

At trial, Appleberry’s personal doctor confirmed that he had identified as male since age nine.

In December 2013, Appleberry and his mother began asking that he be permitted to use the boys’ locker room, but the school district denied their request. A year later, after Appleberry obtained a corrected birth certificate, the school district again rejected his request to access boys’ facilities. 

Appleberry subsequently filed a lawsuit accusing the school district of discriminating against him, setting into motion a long-running, complicated legal process with many twists and turns, including conflicting court decisions.

In 2016, the initial trial court dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the Missouri Human Rights Act does not explicitly protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

But in 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding, in a 5-2 decision, that Appleberry — who had graduated from high school by that time — had a right to sue for discrimination based on sex.

The case went to trial, and a jury ruled in December 2021 that Appleberry had been discriminated against, awarding him over $4.1 million in damages.

The jury also determined that the school district should pay $558,000 in legal fees and attorneys’ costs incurred by Appleberry in bringing the lawsuit, as reported by affiliate KCUR.

The Blue Springs School District subsequently asked for a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict,” a ruling that allows a judge to overturn a jury’s decision.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Cory Atkins did just that in June 2022, ruling that Appleberry had failed to prove that his sex assigned at birth — rather than his genitalia — was a contributing factor in the district’s refusal to allow him to access male-designated restrooms and locker rooms.

While that ruling could have spurred another, separate trial, Appleberry’s lawyers appealed Atkins’s decision to the Western District Court of Appeals, which issued its decision reversing the 2022 ruling last Tuesday, June 4.

An attorney for Appleberry was not immediately available for comment on the appeals court’s ruling.

Other similar cases are currently working their way through the courts, including a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Missouri against the Platte County School District on behalf of a teenage transgender girl, R.F., who claims she was discriminated against when she was barred from female-designated facilities.

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