Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Federal District Judge: Equal Protection Prohibits Policy Banning Transgender Student from Facilities
In his opinion in M.A.B. v. Board of Education of Talbot County, United States District Judge George Russell, III of the District of Maryland denied the motion to dismiss by the school board of a challenge to its decision to require M.A.B., a transgender boy, to use restrooms and locker rooms for girls.
Judge Russell first found that the school's decision violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), entering the murky waters left by the United States Supreme Court's stay and vacation of the Fourth Circuit's decision in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board after the Trump Administration change interpretation of the anti-discrimination policy.
Judge Russell also decided that the school's decision violated the Equal Protection Clause, in an extensive discussion relying upon the developing transgender equal protection doctrine, including the Seventh Circuit's 2017 decision in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District as well as the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Glenn v. Brumby, the only two circuits to have ruled on the issue, and district court cases in the school context such as Evanacho v. Pine-Richland School District and those regarding the transgender military ban such as Doe v. Trump and Stone v. Trump.
Judge Russell found that classifications based on transgender status merit intermediate scrutiny for two reasons. First, he found that transgender classifications were tantamount to sex classifications, specifically discussing sex-stereotyping.
Second, he found that "transgender individuals are, at minimum, a quasi-suspect class," under a four-factor test similar to that first articulated in Carolene Products footnote 4:
- whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination;”
- whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society;"
- whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and
- whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.”
Judge Russell then analyzed each of these factors, with an interesting reference in a footnote, and found them satisfied, concluding that intermediate scrutiny was appropriate, and quoting the standard as that articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI).
While Judge Russell's opinion seemed to cast some doubt on whether the school board's proffered privacy rationale could satisfy the "important" prong, especially as described in VMI, he noted that the procedural posture of the decision was a motion to dismiss. However, even assuming privacy was an important interest, he concluded that the means chosen - - - the banning of the transgender male student from male bathrooms and locker rooms - - - was not substantially related to the privacy interest. Again, Judge Russell quoted Whitaker rejecting the school board's attempt to distinguish it on the basis that locker rooms were not at issue in the Seventh Circuit case and stated that Whitaker's "reasoning applies with similar force."Judge Russell then countered the school board's argument that "if M.A.B. changing clothes in the designated restrooms makes him feel humiliated and embarrassed, as well as alienated from his peers, then students who use those restrooms for greater privacy will feel the same way," with four separate reasons why the argument was flawed. For example, Judge Russell wrote that the school board's argument "overlooks the entire context surrounding the Policy: "It singles M.A.B. out, quite literally because it does not apply to anyone else at the High School, and marks him as different for being transgender." On the contrary, Judge Russell wrote, "a boy who makes the personal choice to change clothes in a single-use restroom or stall does not experience any such singling out at the hands of his school."
Judge Russell, however, did not grant M.A.B.'s motion for preliminary injunction, given M.A.B.'s status for the current school year, but "aware that the parties likely hope for a resolution to this case before the following school year," directed "the parties to confer and submit to the Court a joint proposed scheduling order."