Lawsuit filed in gender dispute

Lawsuit filed in gender dispute

File Photo

Former Student Seamus Johnston.

Brandon Zeris, Editor-In-Chief

Former Pitt-Johnstown student Seamus Johnston is suing the University of Pittsburgh for damages stemming from a three-month dispute over Johnston’s right to use men’s bathrooms and locker rooms that led to his expulsion.

Johnston, a transgender male, filed the lawsuit on his own behalf Sept. 16, at the U.S. District Court along Washington Street in Johnstown, listing nine named defendants, including University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and four UPJ police officers.

Johnston accused the defendants of three counts of discrimination and one count of breach of contract.

Johnston apparently drew up the civil complaints on his own as no attorney signed it. Johnston closes the complaint with an apology for his lack of experience in drafting legal documents.

The complaint also lists the State System of Higher Education as a defendant, apparently erroneously because Pitt is not part of the state system.

Johnston also apparently erroneously asserts that the University of Pittsburgh is a land-grant university.

In his complaint, Johnston requested the court grant him lost scholarship money, lost potential wages and emotional suffering compensation for what he claims was a wrongful expulsion.

Johnston was awarded a commuter scholarship, which covered his tuition, fees and book costs as long as he fulfilled the grade-point average requirements, according to the complaint.

He also provided an alternative desired outcome that would reinstate his academic credits, honors and scholarships.

UPJ Community Relations Director Bob Knipple said it’s an unfortunate case.

“We plan to defend ourselves vigorously throughout this case,” he said.

According to the complaint, Johnston enrolled in a men’s weight training class during the Spring 2011 semester and used the men’s locker room without incident. He enrolled in another weight training class during the fall semester, but was told by an administrator in September 2011 that he was not permitted to use the men’s locker room.

Johnston refused to use the female locker room and agreed to use a unisex locker room normally reserved for referees, which other students were not required to use.

UPJ President Jem Spectar received a complaint by Johnston via email in October 2011 regarding the situation, the lawsuit says.

Spectar replied, according to the complaint that Johnston must change his gender status with the university through a court order or birth certificate change to gain access to the locker room.

Johnston said he was falsely identified as female at birth and should not have been treated as a female.

“UPJ refused to update the sex on Mr. Johnston’s student records from female to male when presented with reasonable evidence of error,” the complaint reads.

Johnston said he is recognized as a male by his family physician, the Social Security Administration and Selective Service as well as the Department of State and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Johnston continued to use the men’s locker room, and received his first of two disorderly conduct citations from UPJ campus police on Nov. 16, 2011 at the weight-training class.

Former UPJ Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Coordinator Jake Harper notified Johnston that he was temporarily banned from the Sports Center after Johnston was issued his second citation just five days after his first.

At a code of conduct hearing Dec. 2, 2011, Johnston was found guilty of three charges relating to his use of the men’s locker room and was banned from all men’s facilities on campus, he said.

Harper notified Johnston Dec. 20, 2011, that he was suspended from the university and wasn’t permitted on UPJ property until the suspension was lifted for using men’s restrooms on Dec. 7 and 15.

At a second code of conduct hearing Jan. 24, 2012, Johnston was charged and found guilty of exhibiting disorderly, lewd or indecent behavior.

He also was charged with failing to comply with lawful directions of a university official and entering university facilities without authorization.

He was expelled with no chance of being readmitted to the university and also banned from university property.

Johnston said that the defendants’ actions are evidence of a pattern of sex discrimination against transgender people.

Johnston also said he believes that administrators gave his name to FBI officials as retaliation, so he could be investigated for last year’s Pitt-Oakland bomb threats, which began Feb. 23.