Cases & Advocacy

Highland Local School District v. U.S. Dept. of Educ.

Status: Closed

Outcome: Resolved

Location: Ohio

Jurisdiction + Case Number: S.D. Ohio, Case No. 2:16-cv-00524; 6th Cir., Case No. 16-4117

Jane Doe was an 11-year-old transgender girl in the Highland Local Schools. For the prior three years, the District refused to treat her as female for all purposes, causing her to be ostracized and leading to frequent bullying and humiliation by teachers, staff, and students. Following an investigation, the U.S. Department of Education concluded that the District is violating Title IX. But instead of trying to remedy that situation, the school district sued the federal government, alleging the federal government did not have the authority to issue the May 2016 guidance on transgender students and that federal law doesn’t protect transgender students.

On July 21, 2016, after her multiple attempts to resolve this matter without litigation failed, Jane and her family intervened in the lawsuit filed by the District and, at the same time, sued the District for discriminating against her. Additionally, Jane Doe filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction requesting that the Court order the District to allow Jane to use the girls’ restroom while the lawsuit was pending.

On September 26, 2016, Judge Algenon L. Marbley, a federal court judge in Ohio, ordered the Highland Local School District to treat Jane Doe “as the girl she is,” specifically requiring the school district to allow her to use the girls’ restroom and use her female name and pronouns when referring to her. In the order, Judge Marbley ruled that federal law requires courts to defer to the Department of Education’s guidance on transgender youth and that federal sex-discrimination laws, like Title IX, prohibit discrimination against transgender students. The opinion rejects each of the arguments raised by the District from claims that allowing Jane to use the girls’ restroom would violate the rights of other girls using those same facilities and that the term “sex” is limited to chromosomes and reproductive capacity.

On December 15, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied the District’s motion to stay Judge Marbley’s order pending the appeal. Like Judge Marbley, the motions panel was “not convinced that [the District] has made its required showing of a likelihood of success on appeal.” The Court reiterated that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination and is prohibited by federal law. The Court also agreed that granting the stay would not be appropriate given the significant and irreparable harm that would cause Jane Doe. Specifically, “staying the injunction would disrupt the significant improvement in Doe’s health and well-being that has resulted from the injunction.” Shortly after that decision, the parties were able to amicably resolve the case.

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