Year: 2014 (Date of Decision: 30 January, 2014)
Forum, Country: Supreme Court; United States of America
Standards, Rights: Non-discrimination and equal protection of the law; Right to education; Rights to water and sanitation; LGBTI
Summary Background: Susan Doe is a transgender girl. Her identity as a girl is accepted by all parties and the diagnosis of her gender dysphoria is not disputed. The issue of her use of communal girl’s bathroom was not raised until September 2007, her fifth-grade year, when pressure started to come from other students and their families. As a response to this pressure, the school terminated Susan’s use of the girls’ bathroom and required her to use the single-stall, unisex staff bathroom. In her sixth-grade year at Orono Middle School, she was also denied use of the girl’s bathroom and instead required to use a separate, single-stall bathroom.
Holding: This case is an appeal by John and Jane Doe, the parents of Susan Doe, of a summary judgement from the Superior Court that was in favour of the Regional School Unit 26 against the Doe family. The family argued that the school’s decision to discontinue Susan’s use of a communal bathroom consistent with her gender identity was a violation of the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity under the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) as amended in 2005. The Regional School Unit 26, for its part, argued that the nondiscrimination provision of the MHRA conflicts with the provisions regulating sanitary facilities in schools entailed in the Maine Revised Statute (20-A M.R.S. section 6501).
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court thus considered two issues: whether there was a conflict between the provisions of the two statutes; and whether the exclusion of Susan Doe from communal girl’s bathroom violated the Maine Human Rights Act.
In particular, the Court looked into the Public Accommodation section in the Maine Human Rights Act (section
The Court held that these statutes served different purposes and they were reconcilable by adopting a consistent reading. The public-accommodations and educational-opportunities provisions of the MHRA aimed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and to ensure equal enjoyment of and access to educational opportunities and public accommodations and facilities. The sanitary facilities provision on the other hand aimed to establish cleanliness and maintenance requirements for school bathrooms. It did not purport to establish guidelines for the use of school bathrooms and offered no guidance concerning how gender identity relates to the use of sex-separated facilities. It was the responsibility of each school to make its own policies concerning how to use these public accommodations and to ensure such policies comply with the MHRA [para. 19].
The Court held that the ban on Susan’s use of the girls’ bathroom constituted discrimination based on her sexual orientation. The Court refuted the defence of the School that it had to comply with the provision for sex segregation in sanitary facilities under the M.R.S. The Court asserted that the decision of the school to discontinue the use by Susan of the girl’s bathroom was not based on a change of her status, but solely on complaints by others. The decision was adversely affecting Susan’s psychological wellbeing and educational success. The Court established that this discrimination based on Susan’s sexual orientation violated the MHRA [para. 22].
Link to Full Case: http://www.maine.gov/mhrc/doe.pdf
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