In a groundbreaking decision, a three-judge Seventh Circuit panel unanimously affirmed a preliminary injunction that required the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin to permit Ash Whitaker, a 17-year-old transgender boy, to use the boys’ restrooms at his high school. The Seventh Circuit found that the school district’s refusal to let Ash use the appropriate bathroom violates both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The historic order is the first federal appellate decision to find that federal law requires public schools to permit a transgender student to use the bathroom corresponding to the student’s gender identity without reference to the Obama Administration’s guidance on the subject, which the Trump Administration withdrew earlier this year.
Relman, Dane & Colfax, the Transgender Law Center, and McNally Peterson, S.C. filed a complaint on Ash’s behalf in July 2016, after school officials barred him from using those restrooms. The injunction, which has been in effect since September, has allowed Ash to focus on his senior year classes, college applications, and after-school activities. Ash will graduate on June 3 and plans to attend college next year.
“We’re grateful that the court recognized that discrimination against transgender students is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that can cause serious, but avoidable harms, to students like Ash,” said attorney Joseph Wardenski of Relman, Dane & Colfax, who argued the case in the Seventh Circuit. “It has been a privilege to represent this courageous young man as he stands up for his rights and the rights of other transgender students. The Seventh Circuit’s ruling today will not only help Ash, but will send a message to all schools that transgender students are entitled to equal treatment under the law.”
“This is a great victory for transgender equality,” said Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center’s executive director. “The battleground may be bathrooms, but the real issue is equality, and the ability of transgender people to go to school, to work, and simply to exist in public spaces. This win makes that more possible for more people.”
The litigation team was led by Joe Wardenski, Michael Allen, Sasha Samberg-Champion, and Robert Friedman of Relman, Dane & Colfax; Ilona Turner, Shawn Meerkamper, and Sasha Buchert of Transgender Law Center; and Robert Theine (Rock) Pledl of McNally Peterson, S.C.