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Lawsuit: Talbot County schools violated transgender student’s rights

A 14-year-old transgender student filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Talbot County Public Schools alleging he was denied access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision to file suit against two companies on the basis of sexual orientation as sex-based discrimination shows the agency is making it a priority, says Jer Welter, deputy director and managing attorney at FreeState Legal. ‘It raises the profile of this issue and sends a strong signal of the federal government’s position. It shows the EEOC putting its money where its mouth is.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

“Requiring a transgender boy to use a girls’ locker room or to use a separate and substandard facility that lacks benches, lockers, and showers violates equal access protections mandated under federal and state law,” said Jer Welter, deputy director and managing attorney at FreeState Justice and the plaintiff’s attorney. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The lawsuit claims the plaintiff, a rising ninth-grader identified by his initials, M.A.B., has been prohibited from using the male locker room facilities at St. Michaels Middle-High School and was also prohibited for much of the school year from using the school’s male restrooms.

Instead, the suit alleges, M.A.B. has been required to use designated “gender-neutral,” single-occupancy restrooms that are not equipped with benches, lockers or showers and are located far from the school’s gymnasiums and locker-room facilities.

“No student who is not transgender has been required to use the single-occupancy restrooms or been prohibited from accessing the communal locker rooms or restrooms associated with their gender,” the suit states. “Using the designated single-occupancy restrooms makes M.A.B. feel humiliated, embarrassed, and alienated from other students; he reports that he received ‘weird looks’ from other students when he uses the single-occupancy restrooms, and so he has tried to use them as infrequently and inconspicuously as possible.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges the school’s policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and seeks a court order allowing M.A.B. access to the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity.

It comes on the heels of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in April that a transgender student in Virginia could sue his school board for discrimination for denying him access to male bathrooms.

“Requiring a transgender boy to use a girls’ locker room or to use a separate and substandard facility that lacks benches, lockers, and showers violates equal access protections mandated under federal and state law,” said Jer Welter, deputy director and managing attorney at FreeState Justice and the plaintiff’s attorney, in a statement. “School systems in Maryland should know the law, and should be protecting students who are transgender from discrimination, not singling them out for separate and unequal treatment.”

According to the lawsuit, the school system has taken several steps to “recognize and respect” M.A.B.’s gender identity since his parents informed school personnel that he was transgender in fall 2014 — including addressing him with the correct, male pronouns and calling him by his chosen name, as well as conducting a professional development workshop on transgender students.

But the school has continued to refuse him access to the male locker rooms despite the practical problems the disparate treatment has created, including forcing M.A.B. to choose between using the restroom and being on time for class, the complaint states.

A “Dear Colleague” letter jointly issued in May by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice clarified that schools nationwide are required to allow transgender students access to facilities that match their gender identity and may not require them to use “individual-user” facilities when other students are not required to. The letter applies to restrooms and locker rooms equally, the lawsuit states.

Talbot County Public Schools superintendent Kelly Griffith, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said the school system is aware the lawsuit has been filed but has not yet been served and declined to comment further.

The case is M.A.B., a minor, by and through his parents and next friends, L.A.B. and L.F.B, v. Board of Education of Talbot County et al., 1:16-cv-02622-GLR.