HRC Blog

EQUALITY IN THE COURTS: DOJ Seeks to Intervene in NY Gender Expression Discrimination Suit

In the Equality in the Courts blog series, HRC attorneys discuss news and break down the legal theories related to the U.S. and state supreme courts as well as other significant federal cases. This post is submitted by HRC Law Fellow Aaron Friedman: Thursday, the Justice Department moved to intervene in a lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in New York. The suit was initially filed in August 2009 on behalf of J.L., a fourteen year old male student whose gender expression does not conform to male stereotypes. Specifically, J.L. dyes his hair, wears make-up and nail polish, and exhibits stereotypically female mannerisms. The Plaintiffs allege that from September 2007 until December 2009, J.L. was threatened, intimidated, and physically assaulted based on his non-masculine expression. The harassment escalated from derogatory name calling to physical harassment of a sexual nature. The complaint alleges that District officials were made aware of the incidents, but failed to investigate, or conducted incomplete investigations of the allegations. The deliberate indifference resulted in the increasingly severe and pervasive harassment of J.L. The Justice Department’s motion asserts that “this case raises important issues concerning the legal standards to be applied in actions enforcing federal civil rights laws.” The United States’ complaint-in-intervention alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on gender stereotypes. Further, the United States has an important interest in ensuring that such conduct is declared unlawful and that appropriate remedies are implemented to prevent like discrimination in the future for all students. In 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department reestablished its GLBT Working Group, which, among other things, focuses on identifying ways to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. This motion marks the first time the Justice Department moved to intervene in a harassment case involving gender stereotypes since 2000.

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