Legal Updates Regarding Accommodations for Transgender Students

By March 2, 2020 News No Comments

Female Students in Connecticut File Complaint in Federal Court Over Transgender Females Participating in State Athletic Competitions, Following Prior Complaint with Office for Civil Rights

As previously reported, on June 17, 2019, three Connecticut student athletes filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights concerning Connecticut’s athletic conference rules regarding the participation of transgender students in interscholastic athletic competitions. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference instituted a policy that allows transgender students to compete in athletic events consistent with their gender identity. As a result, many biological male students who identify as female are participating in women’s sporting events. The complaint alleged that the policy violates Title IX and puts the biological female participants at a competitive disadvantage and harms their chances of earning college scholarships.

Recently, on February 12, 2020, the three student athletes filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and damages in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and five separate Boards of Education. The complaint seeks a declaration that defendants “have violated Title IX by failing to provide (1) competitive opportunities that effectively accommodate the abilities of girls; and (2) equal treatment, benefits, and opportunities for girls in in athletic competition. The complaint also seeks an injunction prohibiting all defendants from permitting males (defined in the complaint as “individuals with an XY genotype”) from participating in events that are designated for females.

The student athletes are asking the court to prevent the transgender girls from competing while the lawsuit moves forward. We will continue to provide updates as this case develops.

Settlement Reached in Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by Former Palatine Transgender Student 

What Happened?

Following more than two years of litigation, Nova Maday, a former Palatine High School transgender student who identifies as female, and Township High School District 211, have reached a settlement agreement, whereby the District has agreed to pay Maday $150,000 to resolve her claims. As previously reported, Maday filed a lawsuit against the District in 2017, alleging that she was discriminated against under the Illinois Human Rights Act after she was denied access to the girls’ locker room.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, District 211 has implemented a new policy that permits transgender students to use the locker room that matches their gender identity.

Ninth Circuit Upholds Oregon School District’s ‘Safety Plan’ Designed to Protect Use of Facilities by Transgender Students

What Happened?

On February 12, 2020, the Ninth Circuit upheld an Oregon school district’s “student safety plan,” which was designed to permit transgender students to use restrooms, locker rooms, and showers that match their gender identity.

The school district adopted its student safety plan after one of its student who was born biologically female began identifying as male. The plan allowed the student to use facilities matching his gender identity, and encompassed training for staff and programs for students designed to prevent bullying and harassment. In response, several parents sued the school district on the basis that the safety plan violated (1) the students’ 14th Amendment right to privacy; (2) the parents’ fundamental right under the 14th Amendment to direct the education and upbringing of their children; and (3) the families’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

In rejecting the parents’ arguments and affirming the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit stated that “a policy that treats all students equally does not discriminate based on sex in violation of Title IX” and that “the normal use of privacy facilities does not constitute actionable sexual harassment under Title IX just because a person is transgender.”

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling falls in line with other recent court decisions rejecting privacy arguments raised by students who object to using the same facilities as transgender students.

Why Are These Cases Important? 

Disputes regarding accommodations and rights of transgender students in schools continue to make national headlines as the debate moves from access to locker rooms/restrooms to participation in sports. These cases are significant to consider as Illinois schools and school districts begin to develop new policies regarding accommodations for transgender students, especially the Connecticut athletics case as the Illinois High School Association’s rules are similar to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s rules on allowing transgender students to participate in sports based on their gender identity.

Please contact any of our student/special education practice group attorneys with your questions regarding accommodations for transgender students.

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