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Relman, Dane & Colfax Files Federal Lawsuit Against Wisconsin School District Challenging Discrimination Against Transgender Student

On July 19, 2016, Relman, Dane & Colfax and Transgender Law Center (TLC) filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) on behalf of Ashton (Ash) Whitaker, a transgender boy. KUSD has denied Ash access to boys’ restrooms at his high school, subjected him to daily surveillance over this restroom use, and threatened him with disciplinary action if he continued using the boys’ restrooms.

The complaint alleges that these and other discriminatory actions—including a proposal that all transgender students be made to wear bright green wristbands in order to monitor their restroom use, school administrators’ insistence on using Ash’s birth name and female pronouns, and the school’s repeated isolation of Ash from his peers on overnight school trips—violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A rising senior, Ash has felt humiliated and stigmatized by his school’s actions. He fears that administrators will punish him for exercising his rights under federal law, and that the ongoing discrimination will interfere with his college application process this year.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) interpret Title IX, which prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, to allow a transgender student to use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity. In April 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed, holding that a transgender boy in Gloucester, Virginia must be granted access to boys’ restrooms. On May 13, 2016, ED and DOJ issued a comprehensive guidance letter to schools across the country reiterating Title IX’s protections for transgender students. Although KUSD has publicly acknowledged this federal guidance and case law, it refuses to comply with its legal obligations and to treat Ash the same as any other male student.

The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Wardenski and Michael Allen of Relman, Dane & Colfax, and Ilona Turner and Alison Pennington of TLC.

Noteworthy Pleadings

To read press coverage of the case, click on the link below: