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Game-Changer in Debate over Title IX and Gender Identity

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of transgender male student, Gavin Grimm, earlier this week. Grimm had challenged Gloucester High School’s discriminatory restroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers by requiring them to use “alternative, private” facilities. In particular, the Court ruled that a transgender high school student who was born as a female can sue his school board on discrimination grounds because it banned him from the boys’ bathroom. West Virginia is located within the Fourth Circuit, as such, this decision has a legal and binding impact on public schools in West Virginia.

Grimm, who was born with female anatomy, came out as male to his classmates and began using the boys’ bathroom his sophomore year. Parents raised concerns with the school board, prompting the district to pass a policy that requires students to use school bathrooms corresponding with their “biological gender” and indicates transgender students should use a separate, unisex bathroom. Grimm has asserted that the school board violated Title IX, a law banning sex discrimination in schools, when the board prevented him from using boys' restrooms.

This ruling marks the first time a federal appeals court has determined Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use sex segregated facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.

In particular, the Court ordered a lower court to rehear Grimm’s claims that the school board’s bathroom policies, which restrict transgender students to using a separate unisex bathroom, violate federal law. The Court also ruled that the lower court should reconsider a request that would have allowed Grimm to use the boys’ bathroom while the case is pending. In sum, the Court ruled Grimm has an argument that his school board violated his rights, but the Court did not decide whether transgender students faced discrimination in Gloucester, leaving that question to the lower court.

In backing Grimm, the Court deferred to the U.S. Education Department’s position that transgender students should have access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities rather than being forced to use bathrooms that match their biological sex. The department has said requiring transgender students to use a bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex amounts to a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

This opinion is binding in all the states in the Fourth Circuit, including Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. That means Grimm’s victory sets a precedent for students who might challenge laws prohibiting transgender people from using public restrooms for the gender they identify with in these states. We will monitor this case moving forward given the legal impact on West Virginia public schools.

The ruling can be found at: http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/GLOUCESTER_CA4_20160420.pdf

© 2022 Dinsmore & Shohl LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 116
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About this Author

Jason Long, education law practice chair, Dinsmore Lewisburg Office
Partner

Jason Long is a Partner in the firm’s Lewisburg office, is the Chair of the Education Law Practice Group and a member of the Labor and Employment Practice Group. Jason's practice concentrates on two areas of law that are quite diverse from each other. The first area of Jason’s practice originates from his pre-lawyer days as an educator as well as growing up as the son of a county school superintendent. Jason focuses on representation of numerous county boards of education in the firm’s Educational Law Practice Group, providing a wide range of services, including, but not...

304-225-1417
Denise M. Spatafore, Dinsmore Shohl, Education Law, Administrative Law Judge
Of Counsel

Denise Spatafore is a member of the Labor and Employment Department. She focuses her practice on education law. Prior to joining the firm, Denise served as the Supervisor of Personnel for the Harrison County Board of Education. As the administrator in charge, she led the personnel department of a school system with approximately 2,000 employees, providing both human resources management and legal services. Earlier in her career, Denise served as an Administrative Law Judge for the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board.

304-225-1445
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