Judge throws out sex discrimination claims

Kaitlin R. Greenockle, News Editor

Federal District Judge Kim R. Gibson dismissed a lawsuit claiming a Pitt-Johnstown student who was in the process of transforming from woman to man was discriminated against.

The case had one question to answer through the lengthy process, whether or not a federally funded university engages in unlawful discrimination when university officials prohibit a transgender male student from using sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms, according to the memorandum opinion.

The university motioned to dismiss the case, and the court had to decide whether Seamus Johnston had a clear claim of discrimination based on sex under the 14th Amendment and the 1972 amendments to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opinion said. The court found that Johnston was unable to provide a plausible claim and ruled in favor of the university, according to the opinion.

Johnston noticed his gender identity and informed his parents of his feelings at age 9.

In May 2009, he transitioned by living as a male. In August 2010, he started counseling, and his psychotherapist diagnosed him with Gender Identity Disorder. A year later, he began using testosterone injections, the opinion said.

In 2010, Johnston legally changed his name to Seamus Samuel Padraig Johnston as part of his transition. In October 2011, he changed his driver’s license gender to state male, and in February 2012, he changed his United States passport to show he was male. As well as his social security records in November 2013, according to the opinion.

When Johnston applied to Pitt-Johnstown in March 2009, he listed his gender as female even though, when he began attending classes in August 2009, he lived as a male, according to the opinion.

In the fall semester of 2011, Johnston provided university officials with a notarized affidavit showing his name change, and university officials changed his name on their records, the opinion said.

Spring semester 2011, Johnston enrolled in a male-only weight training class, where he used the male locker rooms throughout that semester. He enrolled in the class again for the next semester and again used the male locker room, according to the opinion.

He was informed that he could no longer use the male locker room Sept. 19, 2011, and was provided with a makeshift unisex locker room that typically was used for referees.

On Sept. 26, Johnston was told he could not use the male locker room until he updated his student records, changing them from listing him as a female to male, the opinion said.

On Oct. 29, 2011, Johnston filed a complaint to President Jem Spectar.

“Spectar responded by a letter dated Oct. 21, 2011, confirming that, in order for (Johnston) to have access to the men’s locker room, he must officially change his gender in Pitt-Johnstown’s records by presenting a court order or a birth certificate,” the opinion said.

Campus police officers twice issued Johnston a citation for disorderly conduct because he used the male locker room. Johnston continued to use the male locker room despite this citation.

Johnston was banned from the Sports Center due to his actions and was required to attend a disciplinary hearing, the opinion said.

Johnston again used the male locker room, and, on Nov. 28, 2011, Campus Police officers took him into custody. He was found guilty on three charges at the disciplinary meeting.

He also was required to attend a counseling assessment, was placed  on disciplinary probation for about a year and was not allowed to use any male-designated campus facilities until he graduated, the opinion said.

Johnston continued to use male-designated facilities multiple times, which, as a result, got him expelled from Pitt-Johnstown, the opinion said.

Johnston made five claims against the university in a civil complaint filed in September 2013.

He alleged discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause; violation of his civil rights under federal law and discrimination on the basis of sex; violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, along with alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, which is violation of Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act; and violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy, the opinion said.

On all claims, the court found that sex is defined as someone’s biological gender. Transgender does not fall under the definition of sex. Johnston was alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, which the court found  inaccurate, according to the opinion.