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Missouri school weighs options as court upholds $4M award to transgender student

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(The Center Square) – The Blue Springs School District is reviewing its legal options after the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals ruled a transgender man was discriminated against as a student and owed $4 million in damages.

“The Blue Springs School District is disappointed by the reversal of the circuit court’s decision and the remand,” Katie Woolf, director of public relations for the Blue Springs School District, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “The District is weighing its legal options, and because of the pending nature of this case, we cannot comment further.”

In a 37-page ruling written by Judge Anthony Gabbert, the three-judge appeals court panel unanimously reversed a judgment by the Jackson County Circuit Court that overruled a jury verdict in favor of the former student, identified in the ruling as “R.M.A.”

The ruling is the latest in a 10-year legal battle between the school district and the former student. It started with a complaint filed with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in 2015. After the case was dismissed, it ended up at the Missouri Supreme Court in 2019. In a 5-2 decision, the state’s highest court ruled transgender people can claim sex discrimination.

In December 2021, a jury ruled in favor of R.M.A. and awarded him compensatory damages of $175,000 and punitive damages of $4 million. A month later, the school district filed a motion for a new trial and R.M.A. filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, costs, equitable relief and interest. In May 2022, the court awarded $558,313.72 in fees and costs and a post-judgment interest rate of 5.75%.

In September 2022, the trial court entered an amended judgment setting aside the jury verdict and ruled in favor of the school district for a new trial, stating the school district made its decisions based on genitalia, not sex.

R.M.A.’s birth certificate was amended in 2014 to change his sex designation from female to male, according to the ruling. While in eighth grade, R.M.A. and his mother asked the school district for access to the boys’ locker room and restrooms, but the district refused. While at the Freshman Center the following year, the school district denied access even though R.M.A. had been issued an amended birth certificate.

“School District employees suggested that R.M.A. had been excluded from the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms because of school district’s belief that he had female genitalia,” Gabbert wrote in the ruling. “(The) school district did not actually determine the nature of R.M.A.’s genitalia, however, and does not speculate, inspect, or otherwise inquire as to the genitalia of other male students. On the other hand, a member of school district’s board and the principal at the time of R.M.A.’s high school attendance, testified that school district classified students for bathroom and locker room access based on the sex designation in the birth certificates which students’ families provided to school district.”

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