Maine’s highest court has ruled that a school district discriminated against a transgender student when it barred her from using the girls’ restroom, in response to community pressure, after school officials had previously allowed her to use it. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court wrote that that student, identified as Susan Doe, “was treated differently from other students solely because of her status as a transgender girl.”
In its decision, the court held that the Maine Human Rights Act covers discrimination in access to public accommodations based on “sexual orientation,” which the court said covers gender identity. Accordingly, a transgender person has the right to use the bathroom designated for the gender for which he or she identifies.
The student first began to fully identify as a female in third grade, but restroom use was not an issue as third and fourth graders used single stall facilities. As the student approached fifth grade, when students began utilizing communal bathrooms separated by gender, the school district began developing a plan to address the student’s gender identity. Based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (psychological stress resulting form gender identity), the student’s Section 504 plan encouraged recognition of the student’s identity as a female and recommended that she use the girls’ bathroom.
The district’s plan was modified when there were two incidents involving the student, when boys followed Susan Doe into the girls‘ bathroom, claiming they should have a right to use the bathroom as well. The school district reversed its prior decision and instructed Susan to use a unisex, single-stall bathroom.
The student’s parents filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination. The trial court sided with the school district, but was reversed by the Supreme Judicial Court in its first opportunity to address the state’s human-rights law with respect to gender identity. The court rejected the school district’s argument that the human rights law was in tension with another state law requiring schools to provide sanitary restrooms “separated according to sex.”
Finally, the court majority (one dissenting) said that its decision that the school district discriminated against the student was based significantly on her diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The court noted that, “our opinion offers no guidance concerning how gender identity relates to the use of sex-separated facilities.”
Although the Maine court’s decision is limited to Maine law and reliant on the student’s 504 plan, it represents what is likely to be the first of many court decisions on the issue of gender identify and the use of bathroom facilities.