The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Gender Justice and Stinson LLP have won a $300,000 settlement and several reforms from the Anoka-Hennepin School District over its discrimination against a transgender student, Nick.
In 2016, the school board initially barred Nick from using the boys’ locker room, after he had been welcomed by and participated on the boys’ swim team for much of the season. Nick was singled out and forced to use segregated changing facilities that no other students were required to use. This discrimination led to bullying and threats against his family, causing Nick emotional distress and harm.
“I never want any student to experience the discrimination and cruelty I experienced from the adults at my school,” Nick said. “It means a lot to see the courts protect transgender students like me. Today’s settlement agreement makes it very clear that segregating transgender students doesn’t just dehumanize us, it violates our legal rights.”
The school district agreed to take several steps including:
- Reaffirming its commitment to comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act and not discriminate against or segregate transgender students.
- Developing a policy to allow every student to use all facilities consistent with their gender identity that includes a complaint procedure and a prohibition on reprisals.
- Training all school board members, staff and students on these policies.
- Affirming that students of all gender identities are valued and welcome.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen a growing wave of political attacks against the rights of transgender children to health care, education or even to play sports,” said Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson. “Students like Nick need and deserve the same acceptance as their classmates. Instead, far too many are being targeted for discrimination by adults who should be watching out for them. With this settlement, we hope to send a message that discrimination against trans students is not only wrong, it comes at a cost.”
“Anoka-Hennepin’s mistreatment of Nick was unconstitutional and unnecessary, and we hope this settlement puts every other school district in Minnesota on notice that discrimination will not be tolerated,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney. “Our LGBTQ students, like all students, should have equal access to education, programs and extracurricular activities, not be ostracized based on their gender identity.”
The settlement comes after a ruling by the state Court of Appeals finding that it’s a violation of both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Constitution for school districts to segregate transgender students from their peers in locker room facilities.
In 2016, more than 55 percent of Minnesota students who identified as transgender reported having attempted suicide within the prior two years, according to a Minnesota Department of Education survey. Health risks like this are largely eliminated when transgender students are supported in their efforts to live in a manner consistent with their gender identity.
“It was an honor to represent Nick’s successful effort to align Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws and the Minnesota Constitution’s equal protection guarantees with the scientific literature and the broad consensus of medical and mental health organizations concluding that living in a manner consistent with gender identity is essential to physical and mental health,” said Tim Griffin, a partner at Stinson, LLP.
This the second lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District over discriminatory policies regarding LGBTQ students. The first lawsuit alleged the district allowed uncontrolled bullying and created unequal access to education. Nine students committed suicide in just two years.
The district was still under a five-year federal consent decree to address anti-LGBTQ harassment when they discriminated against Nick.
The ACLU-MN is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans through litigation, community engagement and advocacy. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.
Gender Justice is a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization dedicated to advancing gender equity through the law by dismantling barriers and expanding protections so that all people can thrive regardless of their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Learn more at www.genderjustice.us.