NAICU Washington Update

Court Ruling Favoring Transgender Student Will Have Impact on Higher Education

August 14, 2020

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are protected under a federal employment discrimination law, a federal appeals court has ruled that Title IX prohibits a high school from discriminating against a transgender student by denying him permission to use the bathroom that conforms with his gender identity.
The ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Adams v The School Board of St. John’s County is the first appellate court decision to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County beyond the employment context. As anticipated, the Eleventh Circuit has interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision to apply to Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination.
Although the case involved a challenge against a high school, the appellate ruling means that colleges and universities located in the Eleventh Circuit – namely, those in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida – are advised to comply with the court’s determination that Title IX prohibits discrimination against transgender students, including with regard to bathroom access. Likewise, institutions of higher education in other states should be aware that similar legal challenges are likely to arise in their jurisdictions.
Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit held that gender identity bias is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. According to the court, by prohibiting transgender boys from using the boys’ bathroom, the school discriminated on the basis of gender identity. As a result, the court concluded that “a public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity. Neither may a public school harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use.”

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