Transgender Students & Employees on Your Campus: What Are Their Rights?This page will be used to update you on cases and guidance as they become available in this emerging area of School Law.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago issued a decision siding with a transgender student who filed suit over using the boys’ bathroom at school. Ashton Whitaker, a high school senior, is a transgender male who asked to use the boys’ restroom at school. The District, however, denied the request because it believed that Ashton’s mere presence would invade the privacy rights of his male classmates. The suit was brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The student also asked for an injunction, claiming that the denial of access to the restroom was causing him harm, because having to avoid the restroom exacerbated a medical condition that rendered him susceptible to fainting and/or seizures. He also claimed it caused him educational and emotional harm, including suicidal ideations. The trial court denied the District’s motion to dismiss and granted an injunction allowing him to use the boys’ restroom. The District appealed.
On appeal, the District requested that the Court of Appeals reverse the trial court’s decision to grant the injunction, arguing that transgender students are not protected under Title IX and that the District can overcome the Fourteenth Amendment claim because it has a rational basis to support the bathroom policy – the need to protect other students’ privacy. The District also argued that the harms to the student were outweighed by the harms to the student population and their privacy interests.
The Court of Appeals rejected the District’s arguments. According to the appeals court, a “policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non-conformance, which in turn violates Title IX.” The policy also subjects transgender students to different rules, sanctions, and treatment than non-transgender students, in violation of Title IX. The District’s gender neutral alternatives also violated Title IX, according to the court of appeals, because of their distant location to Ashton’s classrooms and the increased stigmatization they caused.
The 7th Circuit also upheld the ruling in favor of the student on his Equal Protection claim. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike” and protects against intentional and arbitrary discrimination. Generally, state action will be upheld if the classification drawn is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. However, according to the Court, the rational basis test does not apply when a classification is based upon sex. Instead, sex-based classifications are subject to a heightened scrutiny requiring a showing that the “classification serves important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.”
The court of appeals observed that, because the District’s bathroom policy could not be stated without referencing sex, the policy was inherently based upon a sex-classification and, therefore, heightened review applied. The policy also treated transgender students, who fail to conform to the sex-based stereotypes associated with their assigned sex at birth, differently. These students are subject to discipline if they violate the bathroom policy. The District did not demonstrate a valid privacy interest, aside from “sheer conjecture and abstraction,” according to the Court. In fact, there was no evidence that the District received any student complaints about Ashton’s use of the boys’ restroom. Ultimately, the Court held that a “transgender student’s presence in the restroom provides no more of a risk to other students’ privacy rights than the presence of an overly curious student of the same biological sex who decides to sneak glances at his or her classmates performing their bodily functions…. Nothing in the record suggests that the bathrooms at Tremper High School are particularly susceptible to an intrusion upon an individual’s privacy.” Because the District failed to demonstrate genuine privacy concerns or harm to the student population, the 7th Circuit upheld the injunction allowing the student to use the boys’ restroom. The 7th Circuit has no jurisdiction over Texas and, therefore, this decision is not binding on school districts in Texas. However, this case may demonstrate a trend that other Courts may follow in similar cases brought by transgender students. The case is Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, Dkt. No. 16-3522 (7th Circuit May 30, 2017).
Note: As of Wednesday morning, the House version of the bill is back with the Senate, where lawmakers are fighting to resurrect their version of the bathroom bill (SB6), which would apply the restrictions on transgender bathroom usage to any public restroom in the State of Texas. For the latest updates, visit the Texas Tribune.
After months of heated debate, lawmakers in Texas passed a bill last night that would prohibit transgender students in public schools from using bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity, limiting them to those associated with the gender listed on their birth certificates or single-stall bathrooms.
The bill is expected to clear final passages in the House and Senate this week and head to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk this Friday.
Some opponents of the bill call it discrimination on par with Jim Crow-era laws segregating blacks and whites. Supporters of the measure say it provides guidance to school districts and provides accommodations for all student groups.
The measure approved by the House was narrower than Senate Bill 6, which would have applied these restrictions to public restrooms in any facility in Texas. As debate around that bill stalled, House members decided to tack the bathroom provision as an amendment onto Senate Bill 2078, which addresses school “multihazard emergency plans”, according to the Texas Tribune. The bill will now go back to the Senate.
The language was added by Representative Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who told CNN, “There is absolutely no intent and I would argue nothing in this language discriminates against anyone,” Paddie said. “In fact, it makes sure there are reasonable accommodations for all children.”
Critics, however, say the bill is discriminatory without question and will incite backlash, much like what occurred when North Carolina passed a similar bill.
“Let’s be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, according to the Texas Tribune. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.”
A 7-year-old transgender girl was all ready to testify at a Texas House State Affairs Committee Hearing this week. But as the session went on deep into the night, the girl fell asleep before her turn to speak came at 2 a.m.
According to the Texas Tribune, Libby Gonzalez fell asleep in her father’s arms while waiting for her turn to speak, so her parents took to the microphone for her, asking lawmakers to keep their child safe.
Click here for the full story from the Texas Tribune and to hear an audio of Libby’s planned testimony.
Changing Course, the Seventh Circuit Holds that Sexual Orientation Discrimination Can Give Rise to a Title Vii Employment Discrimination Claim
In the Legal Digest’s Transgender Guide published last year, we reported on a case out of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that Title VII does not apply to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The case is Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana and it involves claims by a part-time adjunct professor that she was denied full-time employment and promotions because of her sexual orientation. In dismissing the lawsuit, the Seventh Circuit cited the 1979 Fifth Circuit opinion Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936 (5th Cir. 1979), which held that a discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII. The Fifth Circuit has jurisdiction over Texas.
The Seventh Circuit, however, recently reheard the Hively appeal en banc, meaning the entire Seventh Circuit panel of judges considered the case. By a vote of 8 to 3, the appellate court changed course, this time holding that the suit had stated a viable claim for relief under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit observed that prior case law did not recognize Title VII liability for discrimination based on sexual orientation and that, while Congress has considered adding the words “sexual orientation” to the list of prohibited characteristics, it never did so. Yet, according to the appeals court, the “goalposts have been moving over the years, as the Supreme Court has shed more light on the scope of the language that already is in the statute: no sex discrimination.” Thus, the fact that Congress has not explicitly included sexual orientation as a prohibited characteristic does not preclude such a discrimination claim. In fact, the Supreme Court has recognized sex discrimination in many forms, including sexual harassment, same-sex sexual harassment, actuarial assumptions about one’s longevity, and discrimination based on a person’s failure to conform to a certain set of gender stereotypes.
Hively claimed that if she had been a man married to a woman (or living with a woman, or dating a woman) and everything else had stayed the same, Ivy Tech would not have refused to promote her and would not have fired her. According to the Seventh Circuit, these facts state a viable Title VII claim. The appeals court stated: “Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant – woman or man – dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex. That means it falls within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways.”
Hively also claimed that she suffered sex discrimination due to her association with others of the same sexual orientation. Looking to prior Title VII cases recognizing such associational discrimination claims based on race, the court of appeals observed that “to the extent that the statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of the race of someone with whom the plaintiff associates, it also prohibits discrimination on the basis of the national origin, or the color, or the religion, or (as relevant here) the sex of the associate. No matter which category is involved, the essence of the claim is that the plaintiff would not be suffering the adverse action had his or her sex, race, color, national origin, or religion been different.” For these reasons, the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Hively’s suit and returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
The Seventh Circuit does not have jurisdiction over Texas. As of now, Texas precedent out of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals does not recognize Title VII claims based upon sexual orientation. However, the law in this area is ever evolving. Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cautions that employers may run afoul of Title VII if they discriminate based on sexual orientation. Therefore, simply because the Fifth Circuit has not yet changed the law in this area, does not mean that employers will be immune from an EEOC enforcement action or a lawsuit challenging an employment decision made on the basis of sexual orientation. Employers should consult with legal counsel if these issues arise to avoid costly legal action and unfavorable public attention.
In a detour from discussion on the controversial “bathroom bill”, Senate Bill 6, the Texas House will discuss a new bill this week designed to prevent school districts from making local policies regarding gender identification and bathroom usage.
According to the Texas Tribune, House Bill 2899, authored by Rep Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, would effectively strip power from local municipalities and school districts to make such policies. Instead it advocates for statewide regulation of transgender bathroom policies. If successful, the bill would nullify existing anti-discrimination ordinances already in place in some cities and towns that allow transgender people access to bathrooms based on gender identity.
Simmons was quoted in the Tribune as saying, “We believe those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators, and one governor of what the policy needs to be. Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”
Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr
In March, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 6 which would require people to use bathrooms in schools, universities, and other governmental buildings that aligned with the gender on their birth certificate. The bill passed after hours of debate. Here are the highlights with respect to public schools:
- The stated purpose of SB 6 is “to provide for the general diffusion of knowledge and an efficient system of public schools, potentially harmful and distracting environments should be barred.”
- “Bathrooms” and “changing facilities” are defined as a place “where a person may be in a state of undress, including a restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower.”
- The bill applies to public bathrooms only.
- The bill states: “A school district or open-enrollment charter school shall require that each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility accessible to students and located in a school or school facility be designated for and used only by persons based on the person’s biological sex.”
- “Biological sex” is defined as the “physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
- Accommodations are allowed, “including a single-occupancy bathroom or changing facility or the controlled use of a faculty bathroom or changing facility, on request due to special circumstances.” However, an accommodation is prohibited if it “allows a person to use a multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility accessible to students that is designated for the biological sex opposite to the person’s biological sex.”
Sponsored by Republican Senator Lois Kolkorst, the bill will next be considered by the state’s House of Representatives. Read the text of Senate Bill 6.
Three transgender high school students in suburban Pittsburgh can use bathrooms that match their gender identity as their federal case against their school district proceeds in court, a judge ruled on Monday.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Hornak ordered the Pine-Richland School District to stop enforcing a rule adopted in September for students to use facilities corresponding to their biological sex or unisex facilities, court documents showed.
The ruling comes five days after President Donald Trump’s administration revoked landmark guidance to public schools allowing transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice, reversing a signature initiative of former Democratic President Barack Obama…
Read the rest of the article by Brendan O’Brien at Reuters
The Trump administration is rescinding protections for transgender students in public schools.
The move by the Justice and Education departments reverses guidance the Obama administration publicized in May 2016, which said a federal law known as Title IX protects the right of transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities.
But on Wednesday, the two federal departments said the Obama documents do not “contain extensive legal analysis or explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX, nor did they undergo any formal public process. This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms.”
Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr
Injunction Banning Transgender Students from Using Bathrooms Based on Gender Identity Will Likely Remain in Place
The New York Times reports that the Drumpf administration will not pursue action against the injunction that kept in place a ban on transgenders’ use of bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The injunction was issued last August, after suit was brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Obama administration filed an appeal to challenge the injunction. However, now it appears that the injunction will remain in place since the new administration announced that it will no longer pursue the appeal.
Photo by Ted Eytan via Flickr
On January 5, 2016, Senator Dan Patrick, unveiled a bill relating to regulations and policies for entering or using a bathroom or changing facility. The bill authorizes civil penalties for violations of the law and increases criminal penalties for criminal acts occurring on the premises of a bathroom or changing facility. Here are the highlights:
- The bill defines a “bathroom or changing facility” as a facility where a person may be in a state of undress, including a restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room.
- The bill would prohibit a political subdivision from adopting or enforcing an order, ordinance, or other measure that relates to the designation or use of a private entity’s bathroom or changing facility or that requires or prohibits the entity from adopting a policy on the designation or use of the entity’s bathroom or changing facility.
- In awarding a contract for the purchase of goods or services, a political subdivision may not consider whether a private entity competing for the contract has adopted a policy relating to the designation or use of the entity’s bathroom or changing facility.
- School districts and open-enrollment charter schools will have to adopt a policy requiring each multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility accessible to students that is located in a school or school facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on the person’s biological sex. The bill defines “biological sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
- The bill does not prohibit a school district or open-enrollment charter school from providing an accommodation, including a single-occupancy bathroom or changing facility or the controlled use of a faculty bathroom or changing facility, on request due to special circumstances. However, the school district or open-enrollment charter school may not provide an accommodation that allows a person to use a multiple-occupancy bathroom or changing facility accessible to students that is designated for the biological sex opposite to the person’s biological sex. Exceptions apply to persons entering facilities for custodial, maintenance, or medical purposes, or to assist those with special needs, as long as the person assisting is authorized to do so.
- A private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by the state or a political subdivision is not subject to a policy developed under the law, and it may not require or prohibit a private entity that leases or contracts to use a building owned or leased by the state or a political subdivision from adopting a policy on the designation or use of bathroom or changing facilities located in the building. Exceptions apply to persons entering facilities for custodial, maintenance, or medical purposes or to assist those with special needs. It also does not apply to children under the age of eight.