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D.D. ex. rel. GRIMM v. GLOUCESTER CNTY. SCH. BD., NO. 15-2056

Decided: April 19, 2016

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s Title IX claim and vacated and remanded its denial of plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Plaintiff was promised and subsequently denied access to the boy’s restroom as his school in Gloucester County after he informed the school that he is a transgender male.  As a result, plaintiff brought suit against the Gloucester County School Board under Title IX and sought a preliminary injunction to allow him to use the boy’s restroom. The district court dismissed the case and denied the injunction. The plaintiff appealed both decisions and asked the Court to assign the case to a different judge on remand based on the judge’s comments during the district hearing.

The Court identified the primary question at issue as being whether Title IX requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms based on their gender identity. Section 34 C.F.R. 106.33, a regulation implementing Title IX, permits the provision of separate restrooms on the basis of sex. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights interpreted how 34 C.F.R. § 106.33 should be applied to transgender individuals. The Office stated that “[w]hen a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” The Court found that the district court erred when it chose not to provide the Office’s interpretation of the regulation with appropriate deference under Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997). The court determined Auer deference was appropriate because it determined that § 106.33 was ambiguous as it applied to transgender individuals and the agency’s interpretation of the regulation was not plainly erroneous.

Next, the Court addressed the district court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s motion for an injunction. The district court denied the motion based on reasoning that it would not be unduly burdensome for the plaintiff to use unisex bathrooms. The Court found this decision was based on “erroneous legal principals” because it evaluated the plaintiff’s evidence against a stricter evidentiary standard than is warranted for a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the motion to be evaluated under appropriate evidentiary standards.

Finally, the Court did not reassign the case to a new judge on remand because it did not find any evidence indicating the judge’s conduct violated the required standard under United States v. Guglielmi, 929 F.2d 1001, 1007 (4th Cir. 1991).

Full Opinion

Megan Clemency