Filed Date: June 11, 2015
Closed Date: Aug. 27, 2021
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On June 11, 2015, Gavin Grimm, a sixteen-year-old transgender boy filed this lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff, represented by the national and Virginia ACLU, proceeded under Title IX and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He sought a preliminary and permanent injunction allowing him to use the boys' restroom at school, claiming that the school board's policy of requiring transgender students to use a private restroom facility violated his rights under Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that after he had used the boys' restroom with the school's permission for seven weeks without incident, the school board released a policy stating that students' access to restrooms was restricted based on their "biological gender" and that students who were unable to use the corresponding restroom because of "gender identity issues" were to use an alternative private facility. At the time, plaintiff was the only student at the school required to use the private facility.
The ACLU had previously filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on December 18, 2014, only days after the school board instituted the restroom policy. The ACLU's complaint stated that the school board's behavior was a violation of Title IX in that discrimination based on a person's transgender status is discrimination based on sex. Additionally, the complaint alleged that, since there had never been any complaints regarding the plaintiff, any privacy concerns were nothing more than irrational prejudice or stigma against transgender people.
On September 4, 2015, the court (Judge Robert Doumar) denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Then on September 17, 2015, the court also granted the school board's motion to dismiss. The school board argued that discrimination based on gender identity is not sex discrimination, and therefore, not covered under Title IX. The court agreed, ruling that the plaintiff failed to state a valid claim under Title IX because schools are permitted to keep separate restrooms based on sex as long as the restrooms are comparable. The court also explained that it had denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction on the basis that allowing him to use the boys' restroom would violate other students' constitutional right to privacy. 132 F.Supp.3d 736.
The plaintiff appealed the court's denial of the preliminary injunction. In the Fourth Circuit, on October 28, 2015, the DOJ filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff's appeal. The DOJ, citing a letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), took the position that discrimination based on transgender status constitutes discrimination based on sex, denying a student access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity denies the student equal educational opportunity, and general invocations of privacy and safety do not override Title IX's prohibition on sex-based discrimination. This marked the first time the administration took this position in an appeals court.
On April 19, 2016, the Fourth Circuit reversed and vacated in part the district court’s ruling. The circuit court found that Title IX is ambiguous on how gender should be determined for purposes of finding impermissible sex discrimination. The court also found that the DOE’s interpretation of Title IX, which required schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity, was the result of the agency’s fair and considered judgment, and was neither a convenient litigating position nor a post hoc rationalization. Based on those findings, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the school board, finding that the DOE’s interpretation was entitled to deference. The Fourth Circuit further found that the district court had improperly excluded evidence in deciding whether to grant the plaintiff preliminary injunctive relief. The Fourth Circuit then remanded the question of whether to grant the plaintiff injunctive relief with instructions to consider the improperly excluded evidence. 822 F.3d 709 (4th Cir. 2016).
The plaintiff had also asked for the case to be reassigned to a different judge on remand. He argued that various statements by Judge Doumar expressing opinions about medical facts and gender dysphoria indicated that the judge had pre-existing views that he would be unwilling to set aside in the face of contrary evidence about gender and sexuality. The Fourth Circuit denied reassignment, finding that there was insufficient evidence that Judge Doumar would refuse to consider and credit sound contrary evidence, and that his methods were idiosyncratic but not fundamentally unfair.
On May 31, 2016, the Fourth Circuit denied rehearing en banc; it also denied a stay of its mandate. 824 F.3d 450 (4th Cir. 2016).
On remand, on June 23, 2016, the district court issued an order granting the plaintiff a preliminary injunction allowing him to use the boys' restroom. The court, noting that the plaintiff had not asked for access to the boys' locker rooms, specified that the preliminary injunction was limited to plaintiff’s ability to access the boys' restrooms. 2016 WL 3581852.
On June 27, 2016, the defendants appealed the preliminary injunction, and asked it to be stayed pending the outcome of that appeal. The Fourth Circuit denied the stay on July 12, 2016. 654 Fed.Appx. 606.
The defendants then sought relief from the Supreme Court. On August 3, 2016, the Court granted the application to stay the district court's preliminary injunction. If the Supreme Court declined to hear the full case, the stay would automatically end; if the Supreme Court ultimately heard the full case, the stay would end once the Court made its final judgment. 136 S.Ct. 2442.
The school board then filed an unopposed motion to stay in the district court on August 18, 2016. The court granted this motion on August 31, 2016.
On August 29, 2016, the defendants sought full review of the case from the Supreme Court. Three questions were presented in this petition. First, whether the Court should retain the Auer doctrine, which allows deference to agencies’ regulations even when the regulations are ambiguous. Second, whether the Auer deference extends to an unpublished agency letter that does not carry the force of law. Third, whether the DOE’s Title IX interpretation is valid. On October 31, 2016, the Court agreed to hear the appeal of only the second and third questions presented. 137 S.Ct. 369.
On February 22, 2017, the new Trump administration withdrew the guidance that the Fourth Circuit had relied on in its rulings, and took no position on whether or how gender identity was covered under Title IX. Argument before the Supreme Court was set for March 28, 2017, but on March 6, the Court vacated the Fourth Circuit's judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of the government's change in position. 137 S.Ct. 1239.
On remand from the Supreme Court, on April 7, 2017, the Fourth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction. 853 F.3d 729. It remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether the case was rendered moot by the original plaintiff's graduation. Back in district court, the was reassigned to Judge Arenda Wright Allen on June 6, 2017.
The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on August 22, 2017, alleging he would be subject to the School Board's policy as an alumnus. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on September 22, 2017, alleging that the plaintiff failed to state a claim because the Board's locker room and restroom policy was consistent with Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, and because alumni were not subject to the School Board's policies (which only apply to current students), this added claim was not a justiciable controversy. On October 26, 2017, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen deferred a ruling on the defendant's motion to dismiss, pending resolution of the issue of mootness.
On November 2, 2017, the plaintiff filed a notice of consent to dismissal as to his third and fourth requests for relief. The plaintiff agreed to dismiss his request for prospective declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief, but maintained his request for retrospective declaratory judgment and nominal damages. Following this approved withdrawal of requested prospective relief, the defendant filed an amended motion to dismiss on January 5, 2018.
On May 22, 2018, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiff had sufficiently pled that the school board’s policy was not substantially related to protecting other students’ privacy rights, “because there were many other ways to protect privacy interests in a non-discriminatory and more effective manner.” The court also found that the board’s argument that the policy did not discriminate against any one class of students was “resoundingly unpersuasive.”
On February 15, 2019, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint that alleged additional facts regarding the defendant’s ongoing violations of the plaintiff’s rights. According to the second amended complaint, the plaintiff had obtained a Virginia court order declaring his sex as male and an updated birth certificate reflecting his sex as male. However, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant continued to refuse to update his official school transcript to match the male gender marker on his birth certificate.
On March 26, 2019, the plaintiff and the defendant separately filed motions for summary judgment. Along with summary judgment, the plaintiff sought a permanent injunction requiring the defendant to update his school records to reflect his male identity. On August 9, 2019, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denied the defendant's motion. The court stated that in order to obtain relief for claims alleging a violation of Title IX, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) he or she was excluded from participation in an education program because of his or her sex; (2) the educational institution was receiving federal financial assistance at the time of his or her exclusion; and (3) the improper discrimination caused the plaintiff harm. The court found that the plaintiff demonstrated all three criteria. With respect to the EPC claim, the court held that intermediate scrutiny must be applied in analyzing claims of discrimination against transgender individuals. The court also granted the plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction. 400 F.Supp.3d 444
The defendant appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on August 30, 2019, (USCA Case Number 19-1952) and oral argument was heard on May 26, 2020. In an opinion published on August 26, 2020, Circuit Judge Henry Floyd affirmed the district court’s judgment. 972 F.3d 586. The defendant argued two issues on appeal: 1) that the plaintiff’s claims pertaining to the restroom policy were moot because he was no longer seeking injunctive relief in his amended complaint, and 2) that his claims pertaining to his school records should have first been administratively exhausted by requesting a hearing. The court ruled against the defendant on both counts, finding on the first issue that the plaintiff’s claim was not moot because a live controversy remained, and finding on the second issue that an exhaustion of administrative remedies was not required in this case. The court then addressed the plaintiff’s EPC and Title IX claims. The court held that the defendant’s restroom policy and refusal to update the plaintiff’s records constituted sex-based discrimination and, subject to intermediate scrutiny, were not substantially related to the defendant’s interest in protecting student privacy or maintaining accurate records, respectively. Both policies were therefore found to violate the EPC. Finally, the court also found for the plaintiff on his Title IX claims, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiff had demonstrated all three required elements of a Title IX claim.
Following the Fourth Circuit’s opinion the defendant requested a rehearing, which stayed the proceedings on September 9. The Fourth Circuit denied rehearing en banc on September 22, and the August judgment took effect on September 30, 2020. On February 24, 2021, the defendant filed a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, appealing the Fourth Circuit’s judgment. The Supreme Court denied the writ on June 28, 2021. The district court awarded the plaintiff attorney’s fees on August 27, 2021 and, with no further proceedings pending, the case was concluded.
Katherine Reineck (10/31/2015)
Ryan Berry (7/1/2016)
Abigail DeHart (2/13/2017)
Gabriela Hybel (2/7/2018)
Lisa Limb (5/7/2019)
Bogyung Lim (7/9/2020)
Simran Takhar (3/21/2023)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4407029/parties/grimm-v-gloucester-county-school-board/
Allen, Arenda Lauretta Wright (Virginia)
Breyer, Stephen Gerald (District of Columbia)
Block, Joshua A (New York)
Cooper, Leslie (New York)
Capps, Jeremy David (Virginia)
Allen, Arenda Lauretta Wright (Virginia)
Breyer, Stephen Gerald (District of Columbia)
Doumar, Robert George (Virginia)
Floyd, Henry Franklin (South Carolina)
Krask, Robert J. (Virginia)
Miller, Douglas E. (Kentucky)
Niemeyer, Paul Victor (Maryland)
O'Connor, Reed Charles (Texas)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4407029/grimm-v-gloucester-county-school-board/
Last updated July 11, 2023, 10:52 p.m.
State / Territory: Virginia
Filing Date: June 11, 2015
Closing Date: Aug. 27, 2021
Case Ongoing: No
A transgender male high school student who wanted to use the boys' restroom at school.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: