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Illinois: Transgender Locker Room Policy Eludes School District Facing Government Sanctions Under Title IX

An Illinois school district has violated anti-discrimination laws by not allowing a transgender student who identifies as female and is on her high school’s girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room, the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) has held.

The OCR released its findings on November 2, 2015, after completing an extensive investigation of a complaint for unlawful discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 filed by a transgender female high school student against the Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. An entity in violation of Title IX may lose some or all of its Title IX funding.

Schools districts, colleges, and private employers are increasingly at risk of transgender discrimination charges or complaints under laws enforced by the OCR, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as these agencies develop their policies on transgender issues.

The EEOC, the DOL, and the DOJ have interpreted Title VII of the Civil Right Act’s prohibitions on sex discrimination to bar employment discrimination based on gender identity.

On the employment front, in the seven months between October 2014 and April 2015, EEOC received 505 charges based on sexual orientation discrimination and 112 charges based on gender identity. Moreover, the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2012-2016 includes the investigation and enforcement of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sex stereotyping claims .

Further, effective April 2015, the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs requires federal contractors subject to Executive Law 11246 to allow transgender employees to use the restroom and other facilities consistent with their gender identity (See article DOL Releases Regulations Extending Protections to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees, Applicants).

Finally, the OSHA guidelines require all employers under its jurisdiction to provide a “safe and healthy working environment for all employees” and transgender employees “should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.”

OSHA recommends that companies should implement written policies to ensure that all employees have “prompt access to appropriate sanitary facilities.” The agency’s best practices guide also recommends providing options from which a transgender employee may choose. These can include single-occupancy gender-neutral facilities and the use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls (See article Restroom Access Should Be Consistent with Employee’s Gender Identity, OSHA Says).


The Township High School District 211 denied a transgender female student access to three separate girls’ locker rooms (“LR”) (including the Physical Education (“PE”) LR, the PE Swim LR, and the Athletics LR). The Student alleged the District discriminated against her based on sex by denying her access to the girls’ locker rooms because of her gender identity and gender non-conformity.

OCR Decision

The OCR found the District violated Title IX for excluding the Student from participation in and denying her the benefits of its education program, providing services to her in a different manner, subjecting her to different rules of behavior, and subjecting her to different treatment on the basis of sex.

“The evidence shows that as a result of the District’s denial of access to the girls LRs, Student A has not only received an unequal opportunity to benefit from the District’s educational program, but also has experienced an ongoing sense of isolation and ostracism throughout her high school enrollment.”

Other than access to the female locker rooms, the OCR found the District treated the Student consistently with her gender identity, including identifying her by her female name and with female pronouns, providing her with full access to girls’ restrooms and allowing her to participate in girls’ sports.

Alternatives Not Acceptable

The District argued it offered the Student alternative changing options, such as permitting her to change with several female friends in an alternative restroom closer to the PE gym and offering her another restroom near the Swim LR.

The OCR found that the alternatives “continued or would continue to exclude [the Student] from the girls’ locker rooms and set her apart from her female classmates and teammates,” particularly as some of the proposed alternative facilities were not comparable to those provided for other girls.

For example, unlike the other female students who used the PE class swim unit, the Student had access only to a rinse shower and was not able to dry her hair because there was no electrical outlet. Furthermore, by not having access to the PE locker room, she was subjected to stigma and different treatment, OCR said, because she occasionally had been late to class or missed class announcements that were made in the girls’ locker room.

Finally, as a result of being denied access to the girls Athletics LR, the Student felt excluded from the team because she missed the informal huddle in the LR before matches, locker room “girl talk,” and the female bonding in the LR. According, the OCR concluded the District denied the Student’s Title IX rights.

Privacy Concerns Unavailing

While acknowledging that it denied the Student access to the female locker rooms, the District argued that it had to balance the Student’s rights and interests with two distinct privacy concerns of other female students:

  • the need to protect female students from “being observed in a state of undress by a biologically male individual,” and

  • the “inappropriateness of allowing young female students to view a biologically naked male in the locker room in a state of undress.”

The OCR found both of these arguments unpersuasive as the District had installed five showers with privacy curtains and five restroom stalls in the girls PE LR, but had not provided private changing areas in the other two LRs.

“The District’s installation and maintenance of privacy curtains in one locker room go a long distance toward achieving such a nondiscriminatory alternative because providing sufficient privacy curtain access to accommodate any students who wish to be assured of privacy while changing would allow for protection of all students’ rights in this context. Those female students wishing to protect their own private bodies from exposure to being observed in a state of undress by other girls in the locker rooms, including transgender girls, could change behind a privacy curtain.”

Given the Student’s willingness to change privately, the OCR said, the District could have provided equal access to all three LRs if it installed additional privacy curtains for any student that wanted privacy.


Federal government agencies are increasingly examining the purported protections afforded to transgender students and employees, in both the public and private sectors. How to handle transgender issues is still a work-in-progress for the agencies and the entities they regulate. In this case, despite the District’s accommodations and options to provide equal treatment to the Student in all respects other than access to the Locker Room, the OCR nevertheless held its efforts were insufficient. Moreover, states also have laws protecting LGBT individuals (See article Utah Governor Signs Landmark LGBT and Religious Expression Anti-Discrimination Bill).

The following steps can help lower the risk of being under government scrutiny:

  1. closely review and revise EEO (equal employment opportunity), harassment, and transgender policies;

  2. ensure proper sensitivity training of administrators, faculty, and students to foster diverse and inclusive primary, secondary school, and campus environments to avoid stigmatizing transgender students; and

  3. ensure that accommodations for transgender students and employees provide equal access in all respects, as well as balance privacy concerns.

Because of the complexities involved in this area, school districts, colleges, and private sector employers would be well-served to regularly review their policies and practices with counsel to ensure they address specific organizational needs effectively and comply with applicable law.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

gavel scales of justice blue

Breaking News: Refusing to Allow an Employee to Rescind His Or Her Voluntary Resignation Can Get You Sued

Here is the scenario. Your employee decides to voluntarily resign. She gives plenty of notice. Before her scheduled end date, the employee provides information relevant to a sexual harassment investigation involving her supervisor. Before the scheduled end date, the employee tries to rescind her employment. The supervisor refuses. Here’s the question: Is the refusal to allow the employee the opportunity to rescind her resignation an “adverse employment action” for purposes of a retaliation claim?

It could be, at least according to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A similar scenario played out in Porter v. Houma Terreboone Housing Authority. According to the court:

“Just as an at-will employer does not have to hire a given employee, an employer does not have to accept a given employee’s rescission. Failing to do so in either case because the employee has engaged in a protected activity is nonetheless an adverse employment action.”

This is something employers need to be aware of. Remember: thoroughly investigate all work place harassment claims. Also, separate the subject of the investigation from any decisional process regarding the employee’s employment. In a perfect world, the decision-maker would not have any knowledge regarding the employee’s “protected activity.”


dna (1)

Health Officials’ Latest Tool in Tool Box – Whole Genome Sequencing

In late October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with state and local officials investigated an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to food served at a major fast-casual restaurant chain. Much of the underlying information documenting the outbreak has been derived from an advanced laboratory technique called “whole genome sequencing” (WGS). This is a fairly new instrument in the CDC toolbox. WGS reveals the complete DNA make-up of an organism, thereby enabling health officials to better understand variations both within and between potentially pathogenic species. Such information can then be compared with clinical isolates from sick patients, and, if they match, there may be a reliable link established between the illness and the pathogen. This new technique has the potential to define the scope of a foodborne illness outbreak more quickly and ideally will help to prevent additional cases. Traditionally, this analysis has been done via a process known as pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). But PFGE has a shortcoming in that it is unable to differentiate between related species of organisms, which can be critical when health officials are trying to delineate the specific source of the outbreak, and want to know whether to recall a product or not.

The FDA cites numerous examples of how it has used WGS: 1

  • To differentiate sources of contamination, even within the same outbreak;

  • To determine which ingredient in a multi-ingredient food harbored the pathogen associated with an illness outbreak;

  • To narrow the search for the source of a contaminated ingredient;

  • As a clue to the possible source of illnesses; and

  • To determine unexpected vectors for food contamination.

The use of techniques such as WGS reflects FDA’s shift toward a broader preventative-centric approach to food safety. This approach can be associated the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law on January 4, 2011, which requires comprehensive, science-based preventive controls across the food supply.2 FSMA provides the FDA with new enforcement authorities designed to achieve higher rates of compliance with prevention-based and risk-based food safety standards, and to better respond to and contain problems when they do occur. Lastly, the law also gives the FDA important new tools to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods and directs FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities.

WGS also has been employed in the context of recent illness outbreaks associated with products regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees the safety of meat and poultry. In some circumstances involving FSIS, the regulated industry has found itself on the receiving end of confusing scientific input, as regulatory recommendations based upon PFGE analysis were subsequently negated by WGS data.

A shift to WGS may allow health officials to more quickly and more precisely connect the dots during an outbreak, and use of this tool may also benefit the regulated community. The enhanced precision of WGS may provide the regulated community with a new ability to prevent being falsely labeled as the source of the outbreak. Under the prior testing regime, PFGE tests were often unable to differentiate between related species of organisms, and as a result, regulators were at times forced to cast an overly wide net to capture the source of an outbreak. The new WGS technique provides authorities with a more precise and accurate tool. But, as circumstances with FSIS suggest, companies may also encounter confusion over growing pains associated with the movement from one generation of technology to another. We will continue to monitor the development and use of new tools and techniques the FDA, FSIS, and other federal agencies are using to prevent and respond to food safety issues.

1 Food and Drug Administration, Examples of How FDA Has Used Whole Genome Sequencing of Foodborne Pathogens For Regulatory Purposes, (last visited Nov. 9, 2015).
2 FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, Pub. L. No. 111-353, 124 Stat. 3885 (2001). 

Social Media Tweet Birds Tweeting

Employers: Twitter is Going Crazy Over #InternationalMensDay Hashtag

This will be a short post. Earlier this week we posted an article that discussed the need for employers to stay on top of what is trending on the Internet. Why? Because trending topics can sometimes lead to controversial discussions that might not be consistent with an employer’s EEO Policy. As a result, we explained that it would be prudent to understand what may be the current topic being discussed around the watercooler. Here is a follow up to that article:  The #InternationalMensDay hashtag is currently trending on Twitter (right now at 114K tweets). What is the relevance of this topic to employers? A quick search shows that a lot of the content posted can be construed as inappropriate and/or discriminatory (although presumably meant to be humorous).  It’s the middle of the work day where we are – so we can only presume a lot of this content is being posted by employees in the workplace.

Remember: Title VII and many state laws prohibit discrimination based on gender. The more questionable content generated in the workplace, the better chance an employee can argue there is evidence of a  convincing mosaic of discrimination tolerated by the employer. Be sure to remind employees of your company’s EEO policy if you come across any inappropriate content and/or discussions. And, as always, be sure to stay on top of trends that may have an impact in the workplace.

ARTICLE BY  Peter T. Tschanz of Barnes & Thornburg LLP

Best Practices for Creating Landing Pages That Convert

Landing pages — dedicated web pages that a visitor to your website, blog, social media post or e-newsletter is guided to after clicking on a link — are critical when it comes to converting those visitors into qualified leads.

landing pages internetIf you have been directing traffic to the home page of your website, you are missing a big opportunity to capture more leads. Landing pages have been proven to more than double conversion rates when compared with website home pages. This is because they are created specifically for converting leads, featuring specialized content and offers that appeal to a targeted audience.

To make your landing pages pay, you need to know the basics about how to create a highly effective landing page.  Here are 10 steps you need to take in developing landing pages for your law firm:

  1. Have a singular goal.  You want your landing page to do just one job for you — get the visitor to download that free report, sign up for a seminar, subscribe to your newsletter, etc.  Don’t clutter them up with multiple offers.  One page.  One job.

  2. Use a single, relevant visual.  Choose an illustration or photo that is relevant to your offer.

  3. No false endorsements.  Don’t create false endorsements for your offer.  Avoid cheesy endorsement copy that turns visitors off.

  4. Use simple design.  Keep your design simple with minimal, impactful copy that consists of a headline, subhead and bullet points that make the content easy to scan.

  5. Quick load.  Be sure your landing page loads quickly; you only have a few seconds for it to pop up or your visitor will lose interest and click off.

  6. Compelling copy.  The worse thing you can do is bore your visitor.  Your copy needs to be readable, believable and lead the visitor quickly to your ultimate goal.

  7. Eyes on the prize.  Write and design your land page with your singular goal in mind.  Do not clutter the content with irrelevant prose.

  8. Inform and educate.  Don’t waste the visitor’s time by not delivering anything of benefit.  And don’t ask for too much information — a name and an email address should be sufficient.

  9. Be truthful.  If you have actual testimonials that would be appropriate, use them but be sure you are not making any false promises or guarantees.

  10. Provide value.  Make it clear what the value and benefits of redeeming your offer will provide to your visitor.  If they are entrusting you with their information, you need to let them know it is a fair exchange for what you are providing with the offer.

© The Rainmaker Institute, All Rights Reserved


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