A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Department of Education’s interpretation of existing federal civil rights laws to protect transgender people against discrimination in education.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the department’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to include protections in the law’s ban on sex discrimination that allow transgender people to use a restroom in accordance with their gender identity.
The Gloucester County School Board, however, passed a policy that restricts students to restrooms reflecting their “biological gender.” The transgender student who was targeted by the policy, Gavin Grimm, brought this lawsuit in federal court, seeking an injunction against enforcement of the board’s policy.
Among the states included in the 4th Circuit is North Carolina, which recently passed a law limiting restroom use in government facilities — including universities — to that which corresponds with a person’s “biological sex.” The ACLU, which is backing Grimm’s suit, also has brought suit against the North Carolina law.
The appeals court first held that the language of regulations implementing Title IX were ambiguous as to transgender restroom use and then finding that the department’s interpretation of those regulations — allowing transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity — was a legitimate interpretation.
“We conclude that the Department’s interpretation of its own regulation … as it relates to restroom access by transgender individuals, is entitled to … deference and is to be accorded controlling weight in this case,” Judge Henry Floyd wrote for the court.
The decision is a big victory for the Obama administration, which weighed in at the appeals court to support Grimm’s challenge.
The appeals court did not, however, grant the preliminary injunction the student, Gavin Grimm, sought, instead sending the case back to the district court to reconsider his request. The appeals court also declined to reassign the case to another judge at this time.
The appeals court had heard the arguments in January, and Tuesday’s ruling is the first such ruling on the Obama administration’s policy — which it also has advanced regarding the sex discrimination ban under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.