VICTORY! Court Rejects Efforts to Deny West Virginian Becky Pepper-Jackson Her Day in Court

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December 2, 2021

A federal court in West Virginia this week rejected the efforts of several defendants to deny Becky Pepper-Jackson her day in court to challenge a discriminatory West Virginia law, H.B. 3293, that would block her from participating in school sports. The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legalthe American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

Several defendants in the lawsuit – the West Virginia Board of Education, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, and the Harrison County Board of Education – had sought dismissal of the lawsuit, but District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin denied that motion. Earlier this year, Judge Goodwin issued a preliminary injunction in Becky’s favor against H.B. 3293allowing her to try out for and run on her middle school’s girls’ cross-country team this fall. Defendants have not appealed that injunction.

“I just want to run, and the state wants to stop me from running as part of a team at my school,” said Becky, an 11-year-old middle school student“I love running, and being part of a team, and the State of West Virginia should explain in court why they won’t let me.” 

“We’re pleased that Becky will now have the opportunity to make her case in court,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Avatara Smith-Carrington.

ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark concurred, saying, "We've said all along that this bill is not only cruel and stigmatizing but also unconstitutional. With this ruling today, we look forward to proving our case in court."

“We are pleased that the Court agreed that H.B. 3293 enlists multiple entities along with the State of West Virginia in carrying out its discrimination. We look forward to building on our successful preliminary injunction motion and obtaining a final judgment in Becky’s favor,” said  Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

“We’re pleased that there is yet another court decision in favor of Becky and other trans youth fighting back against discrimination,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed HB3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020 and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

Read this week’s ruling here:

The case was filed by Lambda Legalthe ACLU Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV ProjectACLU-WV, and law firm Cooley LLP. in the United States District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.