TIME Education

Feds Say Transgender Students’ Gender Identity Must Be Respected

New government guidance has LGBT rights advocates "thrilled"

In one short paragraph of a 34-page memo released on Dec. 1, the Department of Education articulated a clear stance on gender identity, saying transgender students in public schools should be enrolled in single-sex classes that align with how they live their lives day-to-day.

“We’re thrilled,” says Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “It’s so critical to the health and well-being of those students, and it’s going to be so helpful to have that guidance in writing so that schools understand what their obligations are.”

The memo is explicit that federal law protects students’ decisions made in accordance with their gender identity. “Under Title IX,” it reads, a school “must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes.”

MORE: The Transgender Tipping Point

While previous resolution agreements between school districts and the education department have articulated a similar stance, advocates hope the new guidance will clarify the rights of transgender students across the U.S.

“Up to this point, we have known that this is their view of the law,” Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, says of the language in the memo. “But the problem has been that their interpretation has not gotten out more broadly to school districts across the country that are still grappling with how to treat transgender students fairly and make sure that they’re included.”

Investigations into school districts’ treatment of transgender students have already set a precedent that they are protected under Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination.

In 2011, the Departments of Education and Justice responded to a complaint against the Arcadia Unified School District in California. It stated that a transgender boy began attending an Arcadia middle school after starting his transition, appearing as a male with a court-ordered name-change. Administrators said he could not use the boys’ restroom but needed to visit a nurse’s office to use the bathroom or change for gym class. He was similarly isolated on an overnight school field trip in seventh grade; rather than staying with peers like other students, he was kept in a separate room with a parent.

In 2013, the investigation concluded that such treatment amounted to sex discrimination. The school district agreed to a resolution that required them to treat the student as male for all purposes and revise its policies for the treatment of transgender students in the future.

In October, the education department reached a similar agreement with another California school district. A transgender girl had reported that school officials failed to respond to other students verbally harassing her, and that teachers disciplined her for wearing makeup and suggested she transfer to another school. Federal civil rights laws should ensure that “transgender students and students who do not conform to stereotyped notions of masculinity or femininity can learn in a safe, educational environment,” said assistant secretary Catherine E. Lhamon in a statement about the decision.

In both cases, the school districts entered into voluntary agreements. Had they not, Turner says, they might have faced a bigger penalty that would also loom over any schools that defied the new guidance: the loss of federal funding.

The new memo comes at a time when many questions regarding transgender students are still being answered — like how admissions offices at women’s colleges should treat transgender applicants. Though state legislatures and athletic associations have tackled the issue, the memo does not address athletics, which are covered under a different portion of Title IX than single-sex schooling.

But Turner says the new language clarifies the department’s basic sentiment about issues affecting transgender students in public schools. “The overall principle says that schools cannot discriminate based on sex,” she adds. “And it’s clear … that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on transgender status.”

TIME feminism

The Complicated History Behind the Fight for Pregnant Women’s Equality

Lillian Garland [& Family]
Alan Levenson—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images Lillian Garland (front), who won a Supreme Court case which supports pregnancy leave, with her daughter in 1986

Two Supreme Court cases have helped define the struggle

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Peggy Young, a former UPS driver who had to go on unpaid leave — rather than paid leave or adjusted duty — when she got pregnant and a doctor told her to stop lifting heavy packages. Though UPS has since adjusted its leave policy for pregnant workers, the company maintains and a lower court agreed that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn’t make it illegal to give pregnant employees different leave policies than non-pregnant ones. If the act did make such treatment illegal, they say, it would constitute special treatment. Young’s side, on the other hand, argues that making accommodations for pregnant workers is to treat them the same as other workers, not specially.

Unsurprisingly, several women’s rights organizations, like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum, which is associated with the National Organization for Women (NOW), have filed an amicus brief in support of Young.

But, despite all the women’s-rights oomph behind Young’s case, the history of feminism and pregnancy discrimination isn’t so clear cut.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 to specify that discriminating against pregnant people is a kind of sex discrimination (after the Supreme Court case had earlier decided the opposite). It was less than three decades ago — in 1986 — that NOW, as well as the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out on the side of the employer in a case that sounds very similar to Young v. United Parcel Service. They aren’t exactly parallel, but many of the deep questions raised by the earlier case remain pertinent today. How much should childbearing be connected to a woman’s identity? Does respecting women require making allowances for that undeniable difference? Or would doing so hold women back by linking their legal identities to their function as mothers? How much inequality can be tolerated in the service of big-picture equality?

At issue was a challenge to a 1978 California law that required businesses to offer unpaid maternity leave. Lillian Garland had been a receptionist at a California bank when she took advantage of the state law and went on unpaid leave to have a baby in 1982; when she was ready to return to work, the position had been filled. Without her income, she was soon evicted and lost custody of her daughter, leading her to bring a suit against her former employer.

As TIME reported during the dispute, NOW and the ACLU ended up taking the bank’s side, preferring that employee benefits not be sex or gender-specific. “The question is, Should a woman with a pregnancy disability get her job back when other employees with disabilities get fired? You undermine your argument unless you say everyone is equally entitled to this benefit,” explained the ACLU’s Joan Bertin. In other words, anything that keeps an employee from working should be treated the same, whether or not it’s pregnancy, and no law should apply only to women. Meanwhile, feminist icon Betty Friedan and her allies saw things differently: in her view, the law treated everyone equally because it made clear that anyone, male or female, should be able to make decisions about having a family without the risk of losing his or her job.

“The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men,’’ Friedan said. ‘’There has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.’’

The next year, in 1987, the Supreme Court sided with Friedan, finding that the California law neither discriminated against men nor forced employers to treat women specially, as it did not bar companies from extending unpaid leave benefits to men as well.

TIME Crime

The Problem With Prosecuting Women for False Rape Allegations

The UK is aggressively prosecuting women who make false rape allegations, but victim advocates argue it's unjust

Between headlines about the UVA frats, the Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, it seems like sexual assault allegations dominate the news. But in Britain there has been a recent spate of headline-grabbing cases where the people ultimately charged aren’t the alleged rapists, but the women who filed the claims in the first place.

Take the case of Eleanor de Freitas, a 23-year-old Londoner with bipolar disorder. De Freitas reported an alleged assault to the police, who were unable to build a sufficient case against her alleged rapist. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) then pursued de Freitas for perverting the course of justice — a crime which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Shortly before her trial was to begin in April, de Freitas killed herself. The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions is currently investigating the case.

But de Freitas is not alone. Over the past five years, the CPS has prosecuted 109 women for making false rape allegations to authorities, according to the group Women Against Rape (WAR). The majority of those who were prosecuted — a full 98 — were charged with perverting the course of justice like de Freitas. But WAR, a London non-profit, held a public meeting at the House of Commons on Tuesday night, protesting what they believe is the unfair and aggressive prosecution of women.

For their part, the CPS noted in an email to TIME that such prosecutions are “serious but rare” and are “any decision to charge is extremely carefully considered and not taken lightly.”

Yet WAR disagrees. “I have not found any country that aggressively pursues women for falsely reporting a rape the way the UK does,” Lisa Avalos, an assistant professor of law at the University of Arkansas who has been working with WAR, tells TIME. Meanwhile, Lisa Longstaff, a spokeswoman for WAR, says, police are not putting in the necessary work into catching and convicting rapists. “They’re not dealing with rapists properly.”

Avalos agrees: “We do a bad job prosecuting rape across the Western world. A big part of what fuels that bad job is that police do not believe victims. Time after time after time we have victims saying they went to the police and the police didn’t believe them.”

A lot of what WAR says resonates with the statistics. Earlier this month an official inquiry into police practices in England and Wales found that police had failed to record more than 25 percent of the rapes and sexual offenses reported to them by the public as actual crimes. In some regions the figures were even worse, with police not recording one out of every three reports of rape or sexual assault.

Similarly, an explosive report released earlier this year found that police in Rotherham, England, disregarded numerous reports, over a course of years, of rape, sexual assault and forced prostitution made by young girls who were being abused by a group of men. Longstaff also points out that many of the girls in the Rotherham case who came forward to the police wound up being charged with offenses such as underage drinking, while their rapists went free.

According to a report published by the Home Office in January, looking at a three-year average, as many as 517,000 sexual assaults take place in the UK per year and 95,000 rapes are committed. Yet there are only 5,620 sexual assault convictions a year and only 1,070 rape convictions. And while it’s long been a problem that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported to the police — which does factor in to the dismal percentage of convictions — Avalos says that “those [false claim] prosecutions have a chilling effect on other women coming forward.”

No one is arguing that women who make malicious false allegations of rape should be free from consequences. But Avalos says these instances should be looked at on a “case-by-case” basis and that pursuing harsh criminal cases isn’t the answer. (She notes that anyone who finds themselves falsely charged with rape can always pursue civil action against their accusers.) Part of the larger problem with prosecuting women for making false allegations is, according to Longstaff, that past examples prove “we can’t trust the authorities to make a rational decision about which is a false and which is not a false allegation. We’ve gone down the road so many times of seeing women who report rape or domestic violence or even child abuse and then [unjustly] end up on the wrong end of the prosecution.”

She points to the stateside case of Sara Reedy, who received a $1.5 million settlement from a Pennsylvania police department after she was raped at gunpoint at the age of 19 and then charged with inventing the story. Authorities were so convinced she was lying, she was even briefly jailed. It wasn’t until her attacker was arrested for another assault and then confessed to raping Reedy, that charges were fully dropped.

When asked about their decision to prosecute women over suspected false rape allegations, the CPS’s statement also noted that:

Such cases can only be brought where the prosecution can prove that the original rape allegation was false – if there is any question as to whether the original allegation might in fact have been true then a case of perverting the course of justice should not be brought. The relatively few cases that are brought are based on strong evidence and should not dissuade any potential victim from coming forward to report an assault.

But according to Longstaff, that’s exactly what the prosecutions — which might be rare, but can be highly publicized — do. She says many of the women WAR works with feel that “once you report, the police can easily turn on you and pin some other, often minor, crime on you [rather] than deal with the serious rape that you’ve reported.”

Correction: The original version of the story incorrectly described the response to de Freitas’s allegations. The Crown Prosecution Service began a case against de Freitas for perverting the course of justice prior to her death in April.

TIME Courts

Indictment Decision In NYC Chokehold Death Expected Soon

Jury to say if NYPD officer should be charged

A decision is expected soon on whether to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner, according to the New York Times, which cited Pantaleo’s lawyer.

Garner died in July after being put into what appeared to be a chokehold by Pantaleo, while being detained by the officer on suspicion of selling contraband cigarettes. An autopsy found that the manner in which Garner was restrained contributed to his death.

Chokeholds have long been banned in New York City. The Garner case prompted widespread outrage and an intense examination of the New York Police Department’s protocols on the use of force.

[NYT]

TIME poverty

The Homeless of Fort Lauderdale Can Be Fed For Now, Judge Says

City Of Fort Lauderdale Continues To Issues Tickets For Charities Feeding The Homeless Outdoors
Joe Raedle — Getty Images Fort Lauderdale Police Officer, Sgt. Al Lerner (R), speaks with Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old chef , as he warns him that he will be cited for feeding homeless in violation of a recently passed city law on November 12, 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Critics claimed city unfairly targeted the homeless and individuals providing relief

A court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ordered authorities Tuesday to refrain from enforcing a controversial law that places restrictions on residents who feed the homeless.

Broward County Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch ordered a month-long suspension of the bylaw in order to allow all sides to enter mediation. The decision was a partial win for 90-year-old activist Arnold Abbot, who challenged the ordinance after being arrested twice in November for serving food to the homeless.

“We’re elated the judge has entered the stay,” John David, Abbott’s attorney, told the Sun Sentinel.

Under the regulation, which went into effect late November, outdoor feeding sites must be equipped with portable toilets and servers must have the permission of property owners to distribute food.

However, critics claim the ordinance unfairly targets the homeless and individuals providing relief to them.

[Sun Sentinel]

TIME Military

Bipartisan Push for Military to Improve Handling of Sex-Assault Cases

Senators Hold Briefing To Propose An Independent Military Justice System
Mark Wilson — Getty Images U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (2nd R) speaks during a news conference on changing the military justice system, as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (L), U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (2ndL) and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (R) listen December 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The bill needed only five more votes last time

The former chief prosecutor of the Air Force has thrown his weight behind Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s second push to change how the military handles sexual assault allegations.

Retired Col. Don Christensen joined a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to support Gillibrand at a news conference Tuesday, reports USA Today.

“The reality is, the commanders cannot solve this problem because too often they are the enablers,” said Christensen, who quit the Air Force in September after concluding that it was impossible to change the service from within.

The bill would prevent commanders from playing a part in choosing which sexual assault cases will lead to prosecution. Introduced in the Senate earlier this year, the bill was five votes short of getting passed.

Gillibrand says she hopes Christensen’s advocacy and the lack of significant improvements by the military over recent months will persuade senators to switch position.

A new version of the bill could arrive at House and Senate floors this week.

[USA Today]

TIME cities

Power Has Been Restored In Detroit Following a 7-Hour Outage

Detroit Power Outage
Diane Weiss—AP Detroit fire fighters and EMS responded to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to rescue people from elevators and assist others down the stairs after a massive power outage hit downtown Detroit, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.

Schools, colleges and public transportation are expected to resume normal operations Wednesday morning

Detroit’s electricity grid was restored Tuesday night, after an outage that saw large parts of the city — including schools and hospitals — lose power for about 7 hours.

The power went out at 10.30 a.m. and was completely restored by 5.15 p.m., Associated Press reports.

Among the major institutions affected were Detroit Receiving Hospital, which had to rely on backup power, and Wayne State University, which cancelled all classes for the second half of the day.

The university, and several public schools that were forced to declare a half-day, will reopen Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.

A statement from city authorities said the outage also affected 740 traffic signals and 36 fire stations. It said that the DTE Energy Company has taken over the power grid’s operation and is in the process of an 18-month inspection of the system.

“This is a case where a part of the old system that hadn’t failed before failed,” said city mayor Mike Duggan, “Every month that goes by, we’ll be more and more on a more modern system and the likelihood of this happening will go down. But it’s part of rebuilding the city.”

TIME Crime

Michael Brown’s Stepfather Under Investigation for Outburst

Parents Of Michael Brown Return To Missouri After Speaking To United Nations Committee In Switzerland
Scott Olson—Getty Images Michael Brown's mother Lesley McSpadden is greeted by her husband Louis Head after arriving at St. Louis International Airport on Nov. 14, 2014

Investigators are considering whether to charge Michael Brown’s stepfather with attempting to incite a riot for urging a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri, to “burn this bitch down” as part of a larger inquiry into violence after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager, authorities told NBC News on Tuesday.

Louis Head, who is married to Lesley McSpadden, the young man’s mother, could be seen screaming that call and stronger ones at a gathering in Ferguson shortly after the grand jury’s “no bill” decision in the case of Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson was announced late Nov. 24 …

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME justice

Transgender Teen Awarded $75,000 in School Restroom Lawsuit

Jonas Maines,  Nicole Maines, Wayne Maines
Robert F. Bukaty — AP In this file photo, transgender student Nicole Maines, center, speaks to reporters as her father Wayne Maines, left, and brother Jonas, look on outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor, Maine.

Case was brought when a Maine school district forced the student to use a staff restroom

A court in Maine awarded the family of a transgender teenager $75,000 in a discrimination lawsuit against a school district that forced the student to use a staff restroom rather than a facility reserved for pupils, reports the Associated Press.

Nicole Maines, 17, had won her lawsuit against the Orono school district earlier this year in front of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that the school district had violated the state’s Human Rights Act.

The case marked the first time a state’s highest court ruled that a transgender person has the right to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.

In the wake of the court’s decision, a lower court awarded the financial settlement to the Maines family and the activist organization, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defender, on Nov. 25. In accordance with the order, the Orono school district is prohibited from refusing transgender students access “to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.”

The case stemmed from an incident in 2007 when the grandfather of a fellow fifth grade classmate complained to school administrators that Maines was allowed to use the girls’ restroom. In the wake of the protest, the Orono school district began forcing Maines to use a staff facility — a decision that her parents argued was discriminatory.

[AP]

TIME Supreme Court

Is This Pregnancy-Discrimination Case the Next Lilly Ledbetter?

Women's rights leader Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.
Jessica Rinaldi—Reuters Women's rights leader Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, addresses the first session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.

Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court found that treating pregnant women unfavorably was not sex discrimination. Two years later, Congress came back with an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly saying it was.

Almost four decades later, the high court is again considering a case of pregnancy discrimination, in a move that has baffled women’s rights activists.

“Here we are at the end of 2014, talking about pregnancy discrimination, which we women’s rights advocates thought we had addressed and basically fixed in 1978,” says Judith Lichtman, senior adviser at the National Partnership of Women and Families.

In the decades since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the act, says discrimination complaints have increased. In 1997, over 3,900 complaints were filed. In 2013, that number jumped to 5,342.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Young v. UPS, after which it will consider whether refusing to accommodate pregnant women in the workplace always amounts to discrimination.

In Young’s case, the former UPS employee was placed on unpaid medical leave soon after she asked that her duties be shifted after her doctor told her to avoid lifting heavy objects. The company refused, noting it only did that for certain workers including those who had sustained injuries while on the job or who were covered by the American Disabilities Act. Young was instead placed on unpaid leave and eventually, according to the petition, lost her health coverage.

The company says it had the legal right to deny Young’s request at the time, though UPS has since changed its policy and will allow pregnant workers to take alternative assignments when necessary starting next year. In its legal filings, the company argues that Young is seeking special treatment for pregnant employees, a standpoint shared by pro-business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argue that would set an unwelcome precedent on other corporate policies.

“If Petitioner’s approach were adopted,” read an amicus brief filed by the Chamber of Commerce , “it would overturn the seniority policies of thousands of American businesses and frustrate the valid goals of these policies.”

Young and her supporters argue that pregnant workers whose doctors say should limit their work should be treated similarly to any other temporarily disabled employee.

The tide of opinion appears to be in their favor. A recent poll by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that 79% of Americans think the Supreme Court should support Young in the case. Twelve states and two cities including West Virginia, Texas, New York City and Philadelphia have laws that in some way require employers to accommodate workers whose abilities may be limited by their pregnancies. And in July, the EEOC issued guidelines that say employers should not “refuse to treat a pregnant worker the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work by relying on a policy that makes distinctions based on the source of an employee’s limitation.”

Still, women’s groups are not sure that they’ll prevail before the Supreme Court. If that happened, the ball would be in Congress’ court, much like it was when the justices ruled against women claiming pregnancy discrimination back in 1976 — or, more recently, when the high court ruled against a woman who said she was not paid fairly in the Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case. That ruling led directly to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which addressed the problem justices had with the statute. Congressional Democrats have already introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, says that the Young case can also help put a face on the problem of pregnancy discrimination, much like how Ledbetter’s case helped publicize the issue of pay gaps between men and women.

“Lilly Ledbetter epitomized and embodied what happens to a woman working throughout a lifetime who has been paid less systematically,” Greenberger said. “Peggy Young is at an earlier stage in her career and she epitomizes the kinds of barriers that are erected against women during their child-bearing years, including when they become pregnant.”

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