School board to pay ACLU’s legal costs over bathroom lawsuit

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A school board in Virginia has agreed to pay $1.3 million in legal costs to the American Civil Liberties Union after the nonprofit spent six years representing a student who sued over the board’s transgender bathroom ban.

Gavin Grimm’s suit against the Gloucester County School Board ended in June after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the board’s appeal to reinstate its bathroom policy.

Lower courts ruled that the board’s policy was unconstitutional and discriminated against Grimm because he was required to use restrooms that corresponded with his biological sex — female — or private bathrooms. He was barred from the boy’s facilities in high school.

The board agreed to the pay the ACLU’s legal costs in a filing made in a U.S. District Court in Norfolk on Thursday.

Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement that “it should not have taken over six years of expensive litigation to get to this point.”

Grimm, who is now 22, said in a statement that he hopes “this outcome sends a strong message to other school systems that discrimination is an expensive, losing battle.”

David Corrigan, an attorney for the Gloucester County school board, released a board statement that said its insurance provider “has addressed” the ACLU’s request to cover legal costs. The board declined to comment further.

It’s unclear what the board’s own legal costs have been over the years.

The Associated Press filed a request in 2018 with the school board’s insurance carrier under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act seeking that information.

Steve Craig, managing director of the Virginia Risk Sharing Association, responded at the time that such information is exempt because the matter was still pending.

Craig declined to comment on Thursday, stating in an email that “we can’t be of assistance and can’t offer any information or comment on the case.”

School systems that are insured are unlikely to suffer any long-standing financial repercussions from one lawsuit, said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., chief legal officer for the National School Board Association.

“They may see a rise in premiums just like any other insured would experience,” he said, speaking generally and not about Gloucester.

Grimm began transitioning from female to male while he was a student at his high school, located in a mostly rural area about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Richmond. He had chest reconstruction surgery and hormone therapy.

Grimm’s case began after his mother notified school administrators that he had transitioned to a boy as a result of his medical treatment for gender dysphoria. That was at the start of his sophomore year at Gloucester High School.

Grimm was initially allowed to use the boys restroom. But after some parents complained, students were told their use of restrooms and locker rooms “shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders” or a private restroom.

Grimm filed his lawsuit in 2015 and argued that he suffered from urinary tract infections from avoiding school bathrooms as well as suicidal thoughts that led to hospitalization.

The case then pinballed through the federal courts.

It became a federal test case when it was supported by the administration of then-President Barack Obama. It was scheduled to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017. But the high court hearing was canceled after President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era directive that students can choose bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

Grimm’s case was heard again in U.S. District Court in Norfolk in 2019 and by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020. Both ruled in his favor.

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