On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued an en banc opinion in R.M.A. v. Blue Springs Sch. Dist., No. SC96683. The court held that a transgender student who was barred from using the boys’ locker room had stated a valid cause of action for sex discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”).
R.M.A., a female to male transgender student, attended school in Blue Springs R-IV School District (“BSSD”). R.M.A. filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) in October 2014 alleging discrimination in a public accommodation based on sex. R.M.A. alleged that he lives as a male, has changed his legal name to a traditionally male name, and presents himself as male to all faculty, staff, and other students in the School District. R.M.A. alleged that BBSD had permitted him to participate in boys’ physical education class, boys’ football, and boys’ track, but that he had not been permitted to use the boys’ locker room or bathroom based on his sex and gender identity.
In July 2015, the MCHR issued a notice of right to sue, terminating its administrative proceedings. In October 2015, R.M.A. filed suit against BSSD alleging discrimination in the use of a public accommodation in violation of section 213.010 et seq. “on the grounds of his sex.” Specifically, R.M.A.’s petition alleged BSSD’s exclusion of him from the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms subjected him “to different requirements for accessing the services of the school because of his sex.” The Circuit Court of Jackson County dismissed R.M.A.’s suit. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District affirmed the Circuit Court’s dismissal. The Court of Appeals held that MHRA does not extend its protections to claims based on gender identity. It rejected sex stereotyping as a valid theory under MHRA.
The Supreme Court of Missouri found that R.M.A. had stated a valid cause of action for sex discrimination in violation of the MHRA. The three elements of a MHRA claim are (1) the plaintiff is member of a class protected by section 213.065; (2) the plaintiff was discriminated against in the use of a public accommodation; and (3) plaintiff’s status as a member of a protected class was a contributing factor in that discrimination. Missouri statute 213.065 protects individuals from discrimination or segregation “because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or disability.” Missouri defines a public accommodation as “places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public, goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages or accommodations for the peace, comfort, health, welfare and safety of the general public or such public places providing food, shelter, recreation, and amusement.” R.S.Mo. § 213.010 (15). The Supreme Court of Missouri found that R.M.A. successfully pled a cause of action under the MHRA by stating that he was denied full and equal access to the male restroom and locker rooms by defendants and that his membership in the “male protected class” was a contributing factor in the denial. The case is now remanded back to the Circuit Court of Jackson County.
What this means for K-12 schools: This case does not expressly expand the protections of the MHRA to include sexual orientation or gender identity as recognized forms of sex discrimination. Thus, while no immediate changes are required, school boards are encouraged to ensure school policies foster a safe learning environment for students.