The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) have settled a sex-based discrimination case involving a transgender student. This is a historic moment, as the DOJ and ED have now declared that in the eyes of the Obama Administration, “sex,” as used in Title IX (protecting students) and Title VII (protecting workers), goes beyond biological sex to include gender identity and gender expression. These laws already explicitly protect students from harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex in public schools. This new development shows that the U.S. Government believes these laws also protect transgender students and other students that do not fit gender stereotypes.
The complaint, made in October 2011, alleged that the Arcadia Unified School District in Arcadia, California, had denied the student, a transgender boy, access to facilities consistent with his male gender identity. Not allowed to use the male facilities, the student was forced to use the nurse’s office bathroom as both bathroom and locker room. He was also not allowed to bunk with his male friends on a school-sponsored camping trip, despite the fact that they requested to bunk with him and most knew his transgender status. The student was instead forced to share a private cabin with his parent.
The resolution agreement requires that the Arcadia Unified School District “amend its policies and procedures to reflect that gender-based discrimination, including discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, transgender status, and nonconformity with gender stereotypes, is a form of discrimination based on sex.” The school district must also work towards creating a safer educational environment, training its staff and teachers on nondiscrimination principles.
“All students, including transgender students, have the right to attend school free from discrimination based on their sex,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. The Arcadia case is the latest of several recent cases regarding sex discrimination in public schools that have expanded the reading of sex to include gender identity. In both the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the Tehachapi Unified School District cases, the DOJ found that harassment against a student for not conforming to gender stereotypes is prohibited under Title VII and Title IX.