A Jackson County judge has thrown out a verdict that ordered the Blue Springs School District to pay more than $4 million for denying a transgender student access to the male-designated bathrooms and locker rooms.
In a late May ruling, Judge Cory L. Atkins found that attorneys for the student failed to prove his male sex was a contributing factor to the district denying use of the male restroom and locker room, according to court documents.
“The sole, uncontradicted evidence at trial was that Plaintiff was excluded from the male facilities because of his female genitalia,” Atkins wrote in his opinion.
Atkins conditionally granted a new trial after finding the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
Sarah Leisen, an attorney for the plaintiff, said an appeal of the judge’s ruling is planned soon.
“We’re going to continue to fight for justice in this case,” she said.
The ruling brings a new twist to long-running litigation over allowing transgender youth to use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity.
In October 2015, Rachelle Appleberry filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Blue Springs District alleging her son, who has legally changed his name to R.J., had been discriminated against for his sex.
R.J. had been required to use bathrooms separate and inferior to those of other boys and was denied access to the boy’s locker room on a daily basis through middle and high school, the lawsuit contended.
A judge dismissed the case without explanation in 2016 and motions appealing the decision were denied for nearly three years. In 2019, the case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which in a 5-2 decision found that their claim of sex discrimination included transgender people.
At the time, the Supreme Court’s ruling was considered significant because it signaled that the state’s human rights laws against sex discrimination in public spaces can be extended to transgender people. Opponents argued that denying access wasn’t sex discrimination.
The dissenting judges argued that state law only protects individuals based on biological sex.
The case was allowed to proceed in Jackson County court and jurors decided in December that the school district owed more than $4 million in damages to the Appleberry family.
It was one of the largest known awards to a transgender plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit.