Law & Courts

School Board in Virginia to Pay $1.3 Million in Attorneys’ Fees, Costs in Transgender Case

By Mark Walsh — August 26, 2021 3 min read
Gavin Grimm, who has become a national face for transgender students, speaks during a news conference held by The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia at Slover Library in Norfolk, Va., on July 23, 2019. A federal appeals court is hearing arguments Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in the case of Grimm who sued a Virginia school board after he was barred as a student from using the boys’ bathrooms at his high school. A judge ruled last year that the Gloucester County School Board had discriminated against Grimm.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Virginia school board that for years defended its policy of barring transgender student Gavin Grimm from using restrooms corresponding with his gender identity but ultimately lost in court has agreed to pay $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Meanwhile, in another transgender student’s case, a full federal appeals court this week vacated a panel’s decision in favor of the Florida student and said it would reconsider whether federal law protects students based on gender identity.

In the Virginia case, the ACLU has represented Grimm since the beginning of his case in 2015, when he was a high school student in the Gloucester County district and the school board adopted its restrictive policy.

In June, over the dissent of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Gloucester County school board’s appeal of a federal appeals court decision in favor of Grimm. That was the end of the line for the merits of the long-running case, leaving the issue of attorneys’ fees and costs.

The ACLU in July filed its request for $1.3 million with a federal district judge in Norfolk, arguing that it should be awarded attorneys’ fees and costs as the prevailing party, even though Grimm won only nominal damages, with many of the most significant rulings in his case coming after he had graduated high school in 2017.

“Gavin’s case marked a milestone in the development of the law under Title IX and likewise served a significant public purpose, by furthering Title IX’s goal of eliminating discrimination in educational institutions,” the ACLU said in a court filing supporting its fee request.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled 2-1 in 2020 that both the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in federally funded schools, protect transgender students from school restroom policies that prevent the students from affirming their gender identity.

The Gloucester County School Board initially asked the federal district court for more time to respond to the ACLU’s fee request. But on Thursday, it jointly filed with the ACLU a stipulation in the district court in which it agreed to pay the $1.3 million in fees and costs.

“We are glad that this long litigation is finally over and that Gavin has been fully vindicated by the courts, but it should not have taken over six years of expensive litigation to get to this point,” Josh Block, an ACLU senior staff lawyer who represented Grimm, said in a statement.

Grimm said in the statement, “I hope that this outcome sends a strong message to other school systems, that discrimination is an expensive losing battle.”

The Gloucester County school board said in a statement that its insurance provider “has addressed plaintiff’s request” for attorneys’ fees and costs and that it would have no further comment.

11th Circuit appeals court will reconsider case of Florida student Drew Adams

In the other development affecting transgender student rights, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, said on Aug. 23 that it was granting the request of a Florida school district to reconsider a panel decision in favor of transgender student Drew Adams.

In July, an 11th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 that a St. Johns County school board policy that barred him from the boys’ restroom after he began presenting as a boy when he entered Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in 2015 violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause.

The panel had revised an earlier opinion that had ruled for Adams on both equal protection and Title IX, with the panel majority suggesting that the more narrow decision was meant to stave off a rehearing by the full 11th Circuit.

In early August, the St. Johns County school board re-submitted its request to the full 11th Circuit for reconsideration, arguing that the equal-protection decision was wrong and the panel’s failure to rule on Title IX “is troubling and left the circuit and the nation in a quandary.”

The full 11th Circuit’s rehearing order was signed by 12 active judges of the full court, without recorded dissent (including any from the two judges in the panel majority).

The reconsideration comes as most courts across the country to rule on the issue in recent years have held that Title IX protects transgender students from discrimination, but also as some states have sought to pass laws barring transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP