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Supreme Court Lets Stand Fourth Circuit’s Grimm Decision Protecting Transgender Rights

On June 28 the Supreme Court declined to consider review of Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, an important federal appeals court ruling on transgender rights.  The Supreme Court’s action ends a years-long battle by Gavin Grimm to preserve the right of transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.  By letting the Fourth Circuit’s powerful ruling stand, the Supreme Court has assured that transgender students have the right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity throughout the Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

After Gavin Grimm changed his name and began using male pronouns in 2014 as a rising high school sophomore, the school board changed policies in response to parent complaints that banned Grimm from using boys’ bathrooms, permitting him to only use unisex toilets.  This treatment continued even after Grimm received hormone therapy, obtained a court order legally changing his sex to male under Virginia law, and received a new birth certificate reflecting his male sex.  Grimm reacted so severely from the stigma at school that he suffered from urinary tract infections due to avoiding school bathrooms and suicidal thoughts that resulted in hospitalization.

Both the federal trial court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the school board discriminated against Grimm under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that their justification for prohibiting Grimm’s use of the boys’ bathroom lacked any convincing connection to protecting the privacy of other students.  The Fourth Circuit noted that only parents and adults were upset about Grimm’s bathroom use; his fellow students were “savvy and comfortable, and can understand and empathize with someone who just wants to use the bathroom.”  In setting such an important precedent for protecting the rights of transgender students, the court correctly observed: “The proudest moments of the federal judiciary have been when we affirm the burgeoning values of our bright youth, rather than preserve the prejudices of the past.”  Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., 972 F.3d 586, 620 (4th Cir. 2020).  With the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, this clarifies the rights of transgender students in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and is persuasive authority to protect the rights of transgender individuals across the nation.

Correia & Puth represents employees and students confronting discrimination in the workplace and in schools.  The firm maintains an active practice representing transgender clients in cases of workplace discrimination, public accommodations, and in health care coverage.  If you have experienced discrimination or retaliation, please contact us today.

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