A transgender former student who sued over access to Palatine High School’s girls’ locker room saw an appeal dismissed last week when an appellate panel said she could not continue to press for an injunction forcing the school district to grant access, when she had already graduated.
In the summer of 2017, as she was preparing to enter her senior year at Palatine High School, Township High School District 211 told transgender student Nova Maday that if she were to take a physical education class, she could change in the girls’ locker room only if she used a private changing stall. Maday’s mother requested a physical education waiver instead, which the district granted.
After Maday turned 18 that fall, she sued the district on her own behalf, charging it with violating the Illinois Human Rights Act pertaining to places of public accommodation by denying her unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room.
The district has been embroiled in litigation regarding the use of locker rooms by transgender students since 2013. That year, in a similar case, a transgender girl sued the district for denying her access to the girls’ locker room. The changing stall accommodation was the result of an agreement the district reached with the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education. A group of district families then sued over that agreement, claiming it violated the privacy rights of other students. That litigation remains pending.
Justice Shevin Hall Youtube screenshot
In addition to the damages sought in her complaint, Maday moved for a preliminary injunction that would allow full unrestricted access to the girls’ locker room to change for physical education class during her final semester. In their decision, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago drew a distinction between the complaint – which seeks access for all transgender girls – and the request for preliminary injunction, which specifically sought access for Maday during the final semester of her senior year.
In its response, the district argued that it tried to balance facility access for transgender students with privacy rights for all students. The school argued that the Office of Civil Rights had already found the changing stall accommodation to be compliant with federal civil rights protections and said it had accommodated Maday in multiple other ways, including allowing her restroom access and changing her student records to reflect her gender identity.
The circuit court denied the motion for preliminary injunction in February of Maday’s senior year and she appealed. While waiting for the appeal to be heard, Maday graduated – rendering any need for her personal access to the locker room moot.
“As plaintiff is no longer a high school student, no court can grant her a preliminary injunction for her unrestricted use of the girls’ locker room during her last semester of high school,” the justices wrote.
Though Maday argued the appeal is not moot because the appellate court’s ruling could impact damages in her still-pending lawsuit, the court determined she forfeited that argument by offering no evidence to support it. The court was also unconvinced that the appeal falls under the public interest exception because it revolved solely around Maday’s locker room access during her senior year. While her underlying complaint presents a public interest issue for the trial court to decide, the interlocutory appeal narrowly affected only Maday, and only during the window of her last semester of high school.
The appeal was heard by Justice Shelvin L.M. Hall, Justice Mary K. Rochford and Justice Jesse Reyes. While Hall delivered the judgment, both Rochford and Reyes wrote special concurring opinions noting that the court’s decision applies only to the interlocutory appeal of the preliminary injunction and should not be read as an opinion on the merits of the underlying case.