The Anoka-Hennepin School District has agreed to pay $300,000 in the case of a transgender student who was barred from using the boys' locker room while competing for the Coon Rapids High swim team.
The state's largest district also is enacting several important reforms in the wake of alleged discrimination against the former student, his supporters said during a news conference Tuesday.
"Discrimination against transgender students is not only hurtful and wrong, it is also expensive," said Megan Peterson, executive director of Gender Justice, a St. Paul nonprofit that backed the student in the case.
The settlement follows successive setbacks for the district in its efforts to have the case dismissed. Punitive damages also were in play if the case were to go to trial and the student prevailed.
In a statement Tuesday, the district said that in the months following a state Court of Appeals ruling siding with the student that it has modified its policy and procedures plus trained staff and students on the right to access any and all facilities consistent with one's gender identity.
"All legal issues have been resolved," the district said.
The student, Nick H., said Tuesday: "I'll be honest. This was hard. This was a hard experience. … I really put myself out there, but I know that just by being here — by standing up and being visible — I can make a difference. We all can."
Nick H. was a member of the boys' swim team in 2015-16 and had used the boys' locker room for much of that season without incident, his attorneys said, before the school board moved to halt the practice.
That summer, the district constructed an enhanced-privacy bathroom as part of a locker room remodeling. No other such facility was created elsewhere in the district nor were any other students required to use the enhanced-privacy bathroom and changing area, Nick H.'s lawsuit against the district stated.
In 2016 and 2017, he was hospitalized three times for "mental health concerns," according to court documents, before he decided during the third hospital stay to transfer out of the Anoka-Hennepin district.
Last September, the state Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision that kept the suit alive, agreeing that "requiring a transgender student to use a different locker room facility because of his sexual orientation is discrimination" under the education provision of the state's human rights act.
In its statement, the district credited the Court of Appeals with providing clarity in the matter. The settlement not only requires a policy safeguarding student rights to facilities consistent with their gender identity, but also a process by which students can file complaints if they feel that right has been violated — a message that resonated with Nick H.
"Say something, speak up," he said to students statewide who might face similar treatment. "Help is out there."
Across the country, including in Minnesota, legislators have set out in recent years to limit or block transgender participation in sports. A bill making it a petty misdemeanor for a "male student" to join a girls team and a misdemeanor to use the girls locker room has been introduced in the Minnesota House, but it has not gotten a hearing.
In his case, Nick H. had the support of Gender Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and Stinson LLP.
Four years ago, Gender Justice represented the parents of a transgender child in a $120,000 settlement with Nova Classical Academy, a St. Paul charter school. There, the parents had expressed fears the student would be harassed or bullied if the school did not move quickly to adopt a gender inclusion policy.
The policy was approved by May 2016 in a time frame that the school's attorney said was faster than normal. But, by then, the parents had pulled their child from the school.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109