- The suit against the Kenosha Unified School District stemmed from refusal of teaching staff and administrators to let transgender student Ashton Whitaker use school facilities for the boys and repeatedly referring to him with female pronouns after he told them not to.
- Whitaker developed mental and health problems including anxiety, depression, migraines, and issues related to dehydration because he tried to drink less water to avoid trips to the restrooms.
- Ronald Stadler, representing the school board, said that the cost in continuing litigation was partly the reason for the $800,000 settlement.
Transgender student who was not allowed to use boys bathrooms at his school and felt humiliated by school staff won $800,000 settlement on discrimination lawsuit.
According to transgender news by The New York Times, the Kenosha Unified School District from Wisconsin agreed to the settlement for a suit filed in 2016 by Ashton Whitaker, who was at that time a senior student attending at George Nelson Tremper High School in Kenosha, a city on Lake Michigan.
Whitaker, now 18-year-old graduate from the school and attending as college freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, started to live as an openly transgender boy when he was a high school freshman.
The suit against the school district stemmed from refusal of teaching staff and administrators to let him use school facilities for the boys. Furthermore, he felt degraded when administrators routinely refer to him with female pronouns even after he requested them not to.
“The idea of using the girls restroom was humiliating and there was no way I could do it,” Whitaker said in court documents. “If I were to use the gender-neutral restrooms, I would also stand out from everyone else with a big label on me that said ‘transgender.’”
He said he struggled with a host of mental and health issues including anxiety, depression, and migraines. Drinking less water to avoid trips in the restroom, he developed health problems related to dehydration.
Mounting cost of litigation
A federal district court issued an injunction to the school allowing him to use boys bathrooms in his senior year. The school district appealed the decision at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing, “A student cannot unilaterally declare their gender then demand that they be treated like ‘all others’ in that sex classification.”
However, the judges upheld the injunction in May 2017.
The school district appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but agreed to withdraw its petition and settle after the board voted 5 to 2 to pay $800,000.
Acknowledging that Whitaker was indeed told to refrain from using the boys bathroom, the board’s lawyer Ronald S. Stadler claimed that the district never overtly discriminated against transgender individuals.
He also added that the associated cost with continuing the litigation was partly the reason for the settlement.
Stadler said, “I think eventually the Supreme Court is going to have to take this issue and issue a ruling because we have lower courts all across the country that have looked at it in various ways, and it’s not always consistent.”
Sweeping federal decision for transgender people
Whitaker, in an email to Transgender Law Center, the California-based advocacy group that represented him, felt relieved that the case is now over and said that it would allow him to focus on his studies.
“Winning this case was so empowering and made me feel like I can actually do something to help other trans youth live authentically,” Whitaker said.
Transgender Law Center director for litigation Lynly S. Egyes said that the Seventh Circuit’s decision to uphold the injunction was grounded on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title IX, the federal law that forbids discrimination based on gender in education institutions that receive public funds.
It stood out from other court decisions involving transgender issues that relied on guidance from the executive branch.
Egyes said, “This is one of the most sweeping decisions for transgender people at the federal level that we have seen.”
Lawyer Joseph J. Wardenski of Washington-based Relman, Dane & Colfax who also represented Whitaker said that the decision would be advantageous to transgender people in the country, stating that it is already being cited by courts outside of the Seventh Circuit.