Federal Court Blocks West Virginia Law Discriminating Against Transgender Girls and Women

Ruling in response to lawsuit filed by Cooley and coalition of counsel

San Francisco – August 4, 2021 A federal judge blocked West Virginia’s new law banning girls and women who are transgender from participating in school sports on teams consistent with their gender identity. Signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, House Bill 3293 is one of the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures throughout the country in 2021. The ruling is in response to a lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Cooley, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU West Virginia and Lambda Legal. Partner Kathleen Hartnett led the Cooley effort, along with Andrew Barr, Julie Veroff, Katelyn Kang and Liz Reinhardt.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson, who will now be able to join her school’s cross-country team.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” Becky said. “It hurt that the state of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

On July 21, US District Judge Joseph Goodwin of the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia granted Becky’s motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined enforcement of the discriminatory law. In a powerful opinion, Judge Goodwin found that the government failed to show that the law was substantially related to any compelling state interest, and determined that Becky was likely to succeed in demonstrating that HB 3293 is unconstitutional and violates Title IX. The ruling marks an important step in the ongoing fight against laws targeting people who are transgender.

“We are extremely gratified – for Becky, and for all trans youth – at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally,” Hartnett said. “Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else”.

A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020 – the result of a challenge filed by Cooley, the ACLU, the ACLU of Idaho and Legal Voice – and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams.

Cooley partners with local and national legal services organizations, including numerous groups that focus on LGBTQ+ rights, to represent hundreds of pro bono clients annually. Through its pro bono work, Cooley empowers individuals to seek justice and opportunity, and provides nonprofit organizations with the tools they need to effect change and support underserved communities.

Read the full press release from ACLU >

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Related Contacts
Kathleen R. Hartnett  Partner San Francisco
Andrew Barr  Associate Colorado
Julie Veroff  Associate San Francisco
Katelyn Kang  Associate New York
Elizabeth Reinhardt  Associate Boston
Related Practices & Industries

Pro Bono