G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.svg
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Full case nameGavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board
ArguedMay 26 2020
DecidedAugust 26 2020
Citation(s)972 F.3d 586 (4th Cir. 2020)

G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board is a case dealing with transgender rights. The case involves a transgender Virginia student who presented as male while in high school, who had sued the local school board for being forced to use women's restrooms based on his assigned gender under their policy. While the Fourth Circuit had found in favor of the student based on Obama administration policy related to Title IX protections, the election of Donald Trump changed the underlying policy, forcing a pending hearing before the Supreme Court of the United States to be vacated and the case retried at the lower courts. Due to recent case law, including the Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, the Fourth Circuit ruled again in favor of the student; the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the Fourth Circuit's judgment to stand.

Legal background

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination "on the basis of sex" in educational programs and activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government. Congress left enforcement of this to the executive branch, which by 1980, fell under the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education.[1]

Upon his election in 2010, the OCR within the Obama administration took the position that that Title IX protects LGBT students from harassment on the basis of sex stereotypes.[2] Subsequently, OCR brought a number of successful enforcement actions under Title IX on behalf of students who were subject to harassment or discrimination on the basis of their gender identity, gender expression, or failure to conform to gender stereotypes.[3] Eight of the cases were settled in favor of the students.[3] Several private lawsuits were brought as well on similar grounds.[3][4] Further, in January 2015, the Department of Education also issued guidance to all federally-funded schools, known as the Ferg-Cadima letter, that stated that "a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity."[5][6]

Case background

Gavin Grimm, wearing a trans pride flag cape and a T-shirt reading "No Body Is Illegal", speaks on stage at the 2018 Trans March San Francisco.
Gavin Grimm, wearing a trans pride flag cape and a T-shirt reading "No Body Is Illegal", speaks on stage at the 2018 Trans March San Francisco.

See also: Bathroom bill

Gavin Grimm[a] was born female and presented as female until high school whereupon he started to present himself as male, including using the boys' restroom at the school. Parents of other students at the school complained to the Gloucester County school board; speakers addressing the board called Grimm a "freak" and compared him to a dog.[7] The school board passed a regulation that access to changing rooms and bathrooms "shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders, and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility".[8] When he refused to use the girls' bathroom, Grimm was offered the use of some broom closets that had been retrofitted into unisex bathrooms.[9] Grimm refused to use those as well, opting to use a bathroom in the school nurse's office.[9][6]

After the regulation was adopted, Grimm continued to face gender-based discrimination by the school board even after he began hormone therapy (which altered his physical form), underwent reconstructive chest surgery, and received an official Virginia state I.D. card in supplement with his Virginia birth certificate listing his gender as male. [10]

Initial hearings

Grimm, under these conditions, found himself the subject of ridicule by the other students, and through his parent, sued the school board on grounds of Title IX discrimination and the Equal Protection Clause in June 2015 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Grimm obtained legal representation from the American Civil Liberties Union and referred the case to the DOJ.[11] The federal government agreed to intervene in the case on Grimm's behalf, writing to the court that Title IX "prohibits discrimination based on sex, including gender identity, transgender status, and nonconformity to sex stereotypes".[11][12]

In legal court proceedings, Grimm asserted he had been allowed to use the men's bathroom for seven weeks without incident and had faced gender-based discrimination after the regulation of the Gloucester County School Board was implemented. Prior to the hearing, on December 18, 2014, the ACLU had already filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), based on the nature of the school board's restroom policy.[13] Despite Grimm's case mirroring similar cases that the OCR had been pursuing and the existing guidance from the Department of Education, Judge Robert G. Doumar of the District Court dismissed the suit. In his ruling, Judge Doumar held that Title IX's operative provision should be read narrowly to cover discrimination on the basis of genetic "sex" only, and not gender identity or expression.[7][14][15] Doumar also held that on the basis that under Title IX, the school had provided comparable facilities as directed under 34 U.S.C. § 106.33. The court also rejected Grimm's request for a preliminary injunction to use the boys' restroom while litigation proceeded.[6] During the proceedings in the District Court, Judge Doumar made a number of idiosyncratic statements from the bench, saying that being transgender is a "mental disorder",[14] delivering off-topic criticism of the federal government on the issues of marijuana enforcement[7] and sanctuary cities,[14] and explaining that Grimm is a female who "wants to be male".[7] In reviewing the case, the Court of Appeals criticized Judge Doumar's conduct in the courtroom, writing that his "extraneous remarks [and] suppositions ... marred the hearing".[15]

Grimm appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit, in a 2–1 decision in April 2016, overruled the District Court and remanded the case back to the District Court. The majority held that the District Court had ignored the guidance in the Ferg-Cadima letter from the Department of Education, the controlling agency in Title IX protections in the context of the Chevron and Auer deferences, in dismissing the case, as well as to reconsider the preliminary injunction on Grimm's use of the boys' restroom.[6][16][15][17] The school board moved for rehearing en banc, but the Fourth Circuit declined to rehear the case.[18] In June 2016, the District Court granted the preliminary injunction to allow Grimm to use the boys' restroom.[19]

The Gloucester County school board petitioned to the Supreme Court. The school board raised questions on the Auer deference that the Fourth Circuit had relied on in giving weight to the Department of Education's interpretation of Title IX and via the unpublished Ferg-Cadima letter, and to whether the Department of Education's interpretation of comparable facilities or that of 34 U.S.C. § 106.33 had prevalence. The Supreme Court, in a 5–3 vote in August 2016, agreed to put a stay on the District Court's preliminary injunction, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining the conservative sides as to "courtesy" to maintain the status quo while the Court decided if they would take the case. Subsequently in October, the Court granted certification of the case, with the oral arguments later to have been heard on March 28, 2017.[20]

Shortly upon taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump took steps to reject past guidance set by the Obama administration related to transgender rights. On February 22, 2017, Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally reversed past Department of Education guidance including the Ferg-Cadima letter on claims the regulation was not based on a sound legal foundation, allowing schools to establish their own policies as necessary under Title IX.[21] Lawyers in Grimm's case recognized this drastically affected the legal underpinning of the case though had expected to be able to still argue in Grimm's favor on other points,[22] but on March 6, 2017, the Supreme Court vacated their case as a result of the change in the administration's policy, vacated the Fourth Circuit's prior ruling, and remanded the case back to the lower courts to be retried under the current interpretation of Title IX protections.[23]

Rehearings

Since 2017, Grimm had graduated from high school as well as undergoing reassignment surgery to be recognized by the state as male,[24] and had amended the complaint to focus on the harm to his constitutional rights at school and the impact of intervening case law. Judge Arenda Wright Allen of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied the Gloucester County School Board's motion to dismiss the case in May 2018, and ruled that Grimm had a valid claim of discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.[25][26] The District Court rehearings were held in July 2019.[27] The District Court this time found for both of Grimm's claims on Title IX and Equal Protection Clause in August 2019, asserting that Grimm had faced emotional harm from using the restroom assigned to his biological sex.[28] Grimm was awarded attorney's fees, court expenses, and a nominal $1 in damages, and the court issued a permanent injunction requiring the school board to update Grimm's official school records to reflect his gender identity.[29][30]

The school board appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which upheld the District Court's decision on August 26, 2020 on a 2–1 majority. The majority opinion was guided heavily by the Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County which had determined that in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for employment discrimination, "on the basis of sex" includes protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.[24][31]

The Supreme Court denied certiorari on June 28, 2021 with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting, leaving the decision of the Fourth Circuit intact.[32] In August 2021, a settlement was announced under which the district agreed to pay the student $1.3 million for his legal fees.[33][34][35]

Notes

  1. ^ G.G. in the court filings as Grimm was a minor at the time the case was filled.

References

  1. ^ "US Department of Education Principal Office Functional Statements: Office for Civil Rights". 19 December 2005. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
  2. ^ U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, "Dear Colleague" Letter, October 26, 2010
  3. ^ a b c U.S. Department of Education, Resources for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Students
  4. ^ The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, Transgender Student Loses Fight over Expulsion from University of Pittsburgh over Restroom Issues, May 2015.
  5. ^ U.S. Department of Education (January 7, 2015). "Dear Colleague Letter to Emily Prince from James A. Ferg-Cadima, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education dated January 7, 2015". Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Balingit, Moriah (April 19, 2016). "Federal appeals court sides with transgender teen, says bathroom case can go forward". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Mark Joseph Stern, Judge Bemoans Sanctuary Cities, Marijuana Legalization in Hearing on Trans Bathroom Access, Slate, July 28, 2015
  8. ^ The Editorial Board, For Transgender Americans, Legal Battles Over Restrooms, The New York Times, July 27, 2015
  9. ^ a b John Riley, Gavin's Story: Gavin Grimm is the new face of the transgender movement, Metro Weekly, May 12, 2016
  10. ^ "Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board".
  11. ^ a b Dominic Holden, Justice Dept. Backs Transgender Boy In Lawsuit Against School District, BuzzFeed, June 30, 2015
  12. ^ G. G. v. Gloucester County School Board (E.D. Va.), Statement of Interest of the United States, June 29, 2015
  13. ^ "G.G. [Gavin Grimm] v. Gloucester County School Board | Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse".
  14. ^ a b c Dominic Holden, Judge Throws Out Key Argument In Transgender Student Restroom Case, BuzzFeed, July 27, 2015
  15. ^ a b c G. G. v. Gloucester County School Board (4th Cir.), Opinion of the Court, April 19, 2016
  16. ^ Fausset, Richard (April 19, 2016). "Appeals Court Favors Transgender Student in Virginia Restroom Case". New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  17. ^ Christian Farias, Appeals Court Sides With Trans Student Denied Access To High School Boys Bathroom, Huffington Post, April 19, 2016
  18. ^ U.S. Court Denies Motion to Reconsider Transgender Bathroom Ruling, Reuters, May 31, 2016
  19. ^ Jacobo, Julia (June 23, 2016). "Court Orders Virginia School Board to Let Transgender Teen Use Boys' Bathroom". ABC News. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  20. ^ Barnes, Robert; Balingit, Moriah (October 28, 2016). "Supreme Court takes up school bathroom rules for transgender students". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  21. ^ Vitali, Ali; Williams, Pete; O'Hara, Mary Emily (February 22, 2017). "White House Reverses Obama-Era Transgender Bathroom Protections". NBC News. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  22. ^ O'Hara, Mary Emily (February 23, 2017). "Transgender Teen Gavin Grimm on DOJ Guidance Change: 'It Hurts'". NBC News. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  23. ^ Williams, Pete (March 6, 2017). "Supreme Court Rejects Gavin Grimm's Transgender Bathroom Rights Case". NBC News. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Finley, Ben; Lavoie, Denise (August 26, 2020). "Court: School transgender bathroom policy unconstitutional". Associated Press. Retrieved August 27, 2020 – via MSN.
  25. ^ Hurley, Lawrence. "U.S. court backs transgender student at center of bathroom dispute".
  26. ^ Freeman, Vernon (22 May 2018). "Federal court rules in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm".
  27. ^ Stein, Perry (July 23, 2019). "Gavin Grimm, transgender student who sought to use boys' restroom, back in court". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  28. ^ Thuong, Debbie (August 9, 2019). "School that barred transgender student Gavin Grimm from boys' restroom violated his rights, judge rules". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  29. ^ Fearing, Sarah (2019-08-09). "Federal judge sides with Gavin Grimm in transgender rights, bathroom ban case". Williamsburg Yorktown Daily. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  30. ^ "ACLU Comment on District Court Ruling in Favor of Gavin Grimm". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  31. ^ Davies, Emily (August 26, 2020). "Court rules in favor of transgender student barred from using boys' bathroom". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 27, 2020.
  32. ^ Supreme Court denies Gloucester school board’s appeal in transgender bathroom ban case.
  33. ^ Patel, Vimal (2021-08-30). "Virginia School Board to Pay $1.3 Million in Transgender Student's Suit". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-08-31.
  34. ^ "Gavin Grimm: School board will pay $1.3m in trans student's legal fees". The Independent. 2021-08-28. Retrieved 2021-08-31.
  35. ^ "Gloucester County School Board to Pay $1.3 Million to Resolve Gavin Grimm's Case". American Civil Liberties Union (Press release). Retrieved 2021-08-31.