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Jackson County jury awards $4 million to transgender student who was denied use of boys’ bathrooms

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Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
The jury award is thought to be among the biggest ever awarded in a case regarding bathroom access for transgender people.

The Blue Springs School District student was forced to use a single-person, unisex bathroom outside the boys’ locker room, according to his lawsuit.

A Jackson County jury returned a $4 million verdict in favor of a transgender student who was denied access to the boys’ locker rooms and bathrooms at his middle school and high school in the Blue Springs School District.

The verdict against the school district and its board of education is thought to be one of the largest such jury awards in the country and comes more than six years after the case was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Pursuit of justice

The case had a winding history. A Jackson County judge dismissed it in 2016, ruling that the Missouri Human Rights Act does not extend its protection to claims based on gender identity. The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.

But in 2019 the Missouri Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, reinstated the lawsuit after ruling it is illegal for employers to discriminate against people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes.

Although Missouri does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Supreme Court held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes is a form of discrimination that is prohibited by Missouri’s Human Rights Act.

Madeline Johnson, who together with the law firm of Edelman Liesen & Myers represented the student, said her client was “ecstatic” over the jury verdict, which was unanimous.

“He was very excited, very happy,” Johnson said. “He felt vindicated.”

The student, identified only by his initials R.M.A., graduated from college the day after the verdict was returned on Friday, Johnson said.

Katie Woolf, a spokeswoman for the school district, said it "will be seeking appropriate relief from the trial court and court of appeals if necessary.”

At the time the lawsuit was filed, R.M.A. attended Blue Springs South High School. Before that, he attended Delta Woods Middle School and the Freshman Center.

He legally changed his name in 2010. A Jackson County judge granted an order to amend his birth certificate in 2014 to reflect his change of name and his transition from female to male.

Despite that, all three schools he attended denied him access to the boys’ locker rooms and bathrooms. R.M.A. took part in boys’ athletics on the football and track teams while in middle school but was forced to use a single-person, unisex bathroom outside the boys’ locker room, according to his lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged he was singled out for disparate treatment from other boys based on his sex at birth.

The jury’s verdict came nearly six months after the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a lower court decision finding that local school boards may not require transgender high school students to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex listed at birth.

Two months later, the Gloucester County school board in Virginia agreed to pay $1.3 million to resolve the case.

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