To The Point Blog

First U.S. Court of Appeals Holds That Transgender Students Allowed to Use Bathroom of Identified Gender

May 09, 2016

In a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in April 2016, the court held that students in schools that receive federal funds may use the bathroom reserved for the gender they identify with.

The issue of whether transgendered individuals may use the bathroom of the gender for which they identify is not a new issue. The Eighth Circuit held that allowing a transgendered male to use a women’s faculty restroom did not create a hostile work environment.

The issue has also arisen in the District Court of Nevada, where parents and a transgender student did not have standing to sue the school district for refusing to allow transgender students to use the women’s restroom. The issue has been hotly contested in Texas, Mississippi, Illinois, South Dakota, and in Virginia, where this case was tried. The Fourth Circuit is the highest court to address the issue of transgender school students’ right to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

The case arose when Gavin Grimm, who was born female, sued the Gloucester County, Virginia, school board after it implemented a policy banning transgender student use of opposite-sex bathrooms. This ban came on the heels of Gavin’s use of the men’s restroom with his high school’s blessing. One of the issues the school board raised was the concern that anyone, whether transgender or not, could use the opposite-sex bathroom if there was not a bright-line policy restricting use. Also, the school board stated that the unisex, single-stall bathroom would provide sufficient accommodation for transgender students. Gavin claimed that the school board’s ban on transgender student use of opposite-sex bathrooms amounted to discrimination under Title IX.

The Fourth Circuit considered most heavily the U.S. Department of Education’s letter stating that “[w]hen a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex in [situations with sex-segregated bathrooms], a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

Ultimately deferring to this letter, the court vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the case, holding that Gavin’s Title IX claim had merit under the Department of Education’s guidance. The court did not consider the unisex bathroom “compromise” option proposed by the school board to be sufficient to prevent Title IX discrimination.

This case is only the first of what may become many cases tried at the U.S. Court of Appeals level on this issue. If you have questions concerning this ruling and how it affects your school, please contact the Education Law Team at Day Ketterer.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.