Federal Court Tells Pine-Richland High School to Let Transgender Students Use the Bathroom

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February 27, 2017

A federal district court judge today ruled in favor of three Lambda Legal clients – transgender students at Pine-Richland High School – and ordered the suburban Pittsburgh school district to allow the students to use the bathroom that matches who they are.

The court ruled in favor of Lambda Legal’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction that sought immediately to halt the enforcement of a discriminatory new policy adopted by the school district in September.

“This is a huge win for Juliet, Elissa and A.S., who will be able once again to use the bathroom that matches who they are,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “Notwithstanding the Trump Administration’s misguided and cruel actions last week, the court today found that the school’s policy barring transgender students from the restroom that matches who they are violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution."

"Every student must be respected for who they are and be afforded equal educational opportunity," added Gonzalez-Pagan. "The court recognized that policies that seek to erase a transgender student’s identity do not address any real problems, but rather only serve to discriminate and harm our youth.  Such policies are not only wrong, they are illegal. The rescission of guidance by the Trump administration cannot change that.”

Judge Mark R. Hornak wrote:

“The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day-go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers. …[T] he Plaintiffs have shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the District's enforcement of Resolution 2 as to their use of common school restrooms does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“This is wonderful news and a tremendous relief that we can now use the bathroom without feeling isolated and humiliated,” Elissa said in a statement after the discriminatory restroom ban was suspended. “The past months have been incredibly stressful, and this was all so unnecessary. There was no problem before, and we are confident there will be no problem now.”

In granting the preliminary injunction, the court found that the students are likely to succeed in their claims that the school district’s new policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The court also denied the school district’s request to dismiss the case. The court’s ruling means that the discriminatory policy is suspended while the case continues through the court.

In early October, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit, Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, on behalf of Juliet Evancho, Elissa Ridenour and A.S., a third transgender student at Pine-Richland High School who is a minor and identified by his initials. It argues that Pine-Richland’s newly adopted discriminatory restroom policy and practice sends a purposeful message that transgender students in the school district are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded to other students.

The lawsuit was filed after the Pine-Richland School Board in September voted to reverse the School District’s longstanding, inclusive restroom practice in response to pressure from anti-LGBT groups and individuals. The vote followed months of controversy, during which Lambda Legal sent a letter to the district on behalf of several Pine-Richland transgender students, urging officials and the school board to reject the misinformation and to continue treating transgender students equally. Lambda Legal attorneys sent additional letters and were present at several school board meetings.

Read the press release.