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Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board (4th Cir.)

READ CAC'S MOST RECENT BRIEF IN Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board

In Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is considering whether the Gloucester County (Virginia) School Board’s policy, which denies transgender students access to the restrooms used by the rest of the student body, violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Gavin Grimm is an eighteen-year-old young man. He has a male name, his state-issued ID identifies him as male, and he has a deep voice and facial hair like other males his age. In public places, he uses the men’s restroom, and, for a short time, used the boys’ restroom at his school without incident.  Despite of all this, the School Board adopted a policy stating that “the use of . . . facilities shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders [of students], and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate facility.”  Because Gavin is transgender, the Board adopted a policy denying him access to the restroom that other boys use. The proceedings at which the Board adopted its policy were rife with hostility and animus toward Gavin: claims were made that segregated restrooms were necessary to maintain a clear divide between “a thousand students versus one freak” and suggestions raised that if Gavin were allowed to use the boys’ restroom, non-transgender boys would end up dressing like girls in order to use the girls’ restroom.

Gavin filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the Board's policy violated Title IX's prohibition on discrimination based on gender. The district court dismissed his claim, and he appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision, relying on an opinion letter issued by the Obama Administration Department of Education, which provided that “[w]hen a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”  The Board appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. 

On March 2, 2017, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court in support of Gavin, arguing that the Board’s policy cannot be squared with the guarantees of Title IX, which broadly prohibits gender discrimination by governmental and private entities that accept federal financial assistance.  Under Title IX, all persons regardless of sex must be treated with equal dignity, and given access to an educational environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow free from discrimination. By denying Gavin access to any regular bathroom and segregating him from the rest of the student body on the basis of fear, prejudice, and sex-stereotyped judgments, the Board has transgressed Title IX’s mandate of gender equality.  We also argued that Title IX, like many of our nation’s most cherished federal civil rights laws, is rooted in both Congress’s express constitutional powers set out in Article I and in the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit grant of enforcement power, which gives Congress the power to ensure that state governments do not impinge on the Amendment’s promise of equality for all.  Applying Title IX as written to protect all students—including those, like, Gavin, who are transgender—is fully consistent with the Constitution’s federal-state balance.

On February 22, 2017, the new Trump Administration withdrew the opinion letter relied on by the Fourth Circuit, and on March 6, 2017, the Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit’s judgment. In a one-sentence order, the Court remanded the case back to the Fourth Circuit for further consideration.

On May 12, 2017, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fourth Circuit in support of Gavin, arguing that although the guidance on which the court relied has been withdrawn by the new Administration, the court’s previous conclusion that the Board violated Title IX remains correct.  As in the Supreme Court, we argued that under Title IX, all persons regardless of sex must be given access to an educational environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow free from discrimination.  We also again argued that Title IX is rooted in both Congress’s express constitutional powers set out in Article I and in the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit grant of enforcement power, which means that applying Title IX to protect transgender students is fully consistent with the Constitution’s federal-state balance.

On August 2, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued an order remanding the case to the district court to determine whether Gavin’s graduation from high school has rendered his case moot.

Briefs filed by CAC: