VICTORY IN COURT: Federal Judge Sides with Gavin Grimm in Case of Anti-Transgender DiscriminationBy Shane Stahl • May 23, 2018 • 11:14 am
In a lengthy ruling handed down the evening of May 22, Federal Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the United State District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, found that Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student who graduated last year from Gloucester School District in Virginia, could make claims of discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 after his district banned him from using the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity, thereby refusing the district’s motion to dismiss.
The judge wrote: “After full consideration of the facts presented and the compelling scope of relevant legal analyses, the Court concludes that Mr. Grimm has sufficiently pled a Title IX claim of sex discrimination under a gender stereotyping theory.”
Grimm’s case began in 2014, after he socially transitioned. Initially, Gloucester Schools allowed Gavin to use the boys’ bathroom; however, after several parents complained, the district’s school board decided to ban him from using this bathroom, and furthermore, instituted a policy that students could only use bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their biological sex. This policy was met with warnings from our partners at the ACLU, who would eventually represent Grimm in his case.
In 2015, the ACLU filed suit against the district, claiming they had violated Title IX, which includes protections against sex discrimination. The case went before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and on July 27, 2015, Judge Robert Donmar dismissed the Title IX claim.
Grimm and the ACLU appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and on April 19, 2016, a three judge panel reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that Grimm had merit in his claims of discrimination, and interpreted Title IX to include gender identity under the auspices of sex discrimination, deferring to Obama era Department of Education guidance issued to schools regarding the treatment and understanding of transgender students. The case then went back to district court for further proceedings, and in August of that year, Judge Donmar granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Gavin.
Following this, the school district petitioned for United States Supreme Court review; the Court stayed the injunction in August 2016, and agreed to hear the case in October. However, before the case could proceed, President Donald Trump rescinded the previously issued guidance regarding transgender students, causing the Court to remand the case back to the Fourth Circuit, as their deferment to issued Title IX guidance was now moot. The appellate court eventually sent the case back to district court to determine if the school board’s policy had violated Gavin’s rights; this is where the school district filed its motion to dismiss.
In her ruling Tuesday, Wright Allen wrote:
“There were many other ways to protect privacy interests in a nondiscriminatory and more effective manner than barring Mr. Grimm from using the boys’ restrooms. The Board’s argument that the policy did not discriminate against any one class of students is resoundingly unpersuasive.”
Gavin Grimm, now 19 and planning to attend college in California this fall, said in a statement from the ACLU:
“I feel an incredible sense of relief. After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law. I was determined not to give up because I didn’t want any other student to have to suffer the same experience that I had to go through.”
Multiple courts have now found that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender identity – including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in the Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District case and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in a similar case challenging anti-transgender discrimination in the Highland Local School District in Ohio. Lower courts, including in Pennsylvania and Maryland, have also sided with transgender students.
It’s part of the growing consensus in the federal courts – discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity amounts to discrimination based on “sex,” which is prohibited under federal law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments. This growing consensus builds momentum toward national resolution for LGBTQ Americans, who have been pushing for U.S. Congress members to act by advancing federal legislation, including the Equality Act, to extend comprehensive nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
Wright Allen’s decision in the Grimm case also ordered both parties to schedule a settlement conference in the next 30 days.
Freedom For All Americans congratulates Gavin on this monumental victory, as well as his continued efforts to fight against anti-transgender discrimination for students nationwide. Thanks also go out to our partners at the ACLU, who have fought alongside Gavin from the beginning.