October 23, 2017
Bangor Latest News | Poll Questions | Haunted Maine | Bald Eagles | Medicaid Expansion

Transgender student’s lawsuit ends with $75K award, order telling Orono schools to allow bathroom access

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Updated:
John Clarke Russ | BDN | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN | BDN
Nicole Maines (from left), 14, her mother Kelly Maines and her twin brother Jonas listen to Wayne Maines (right) as he delivers a stirring speech about their experience in helping Nicole seek justice and acceptance as a transgender youth.

BANGOR, Maine — A final order has been issued in a transgender student’s lawsuit against the Orono School Department over the denial of her access to the girl’s bathroom in grade school and middle school.

The Penobscot County Superior Court order, dated Nov. 25, enjoined the school department from discriminating against other students as it did against Nicole Maines, 17, who lives and attends private school in Cumberland County.

The court also awarded $75,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston and Berman Simmons, a Portland law firm, which represented the girl and her parents.

“A significant portion of the monetary award will go to the Maines’ family,” Carisa Cunningham, spokeswoman for GLAD, said Monday. She declined to say exactly how much the organization would retain and how much would go to the family.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Nicole Maines’ father, Wayne Maines, said late Monday afternoon of the more than seven-year legal battle that began with a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission. “We just want to move on. We just want to be normal.”

The father said Nicole Maines and her twin brother, Jonas Maines, are high school seniors and are visiting colleges.

He said the subject of his daughter’s gender identity has not come up during campus tours.

The lawsuit was the first in the country to challenge a transgender student’s access to the bathroom of the gender with which the child identified, according to Cunningham.

“We’re grateful that it was resolved favorably, not only for Nicole and her family but for all transgender students who are just seeking to get an education like every other student,” she said.

This case has raised the visibility of the issue of transgender students in schools and “the good ways that schools can address these issues and the bad ways that schools can address these issues,” she said Monday.

“We hope this will be a legal building block on how to address these issues,” Cunningham said.

Wayne Maine, his wife, Kelly Maines, and the Human Rights Commission sued what is now Regional School Unit 26 in 2009 in Penobscot County Superior Court on behalf of Nicole Maines. The commission previously ruled in the girl’s favor against the district.

In November 2012, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled in the school district’s favor. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed that ruling in a 5-1 decision in January of this year.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Judicial Court has given us clear guidance on how to handle the issue,” Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represents the district, said Monday in an email. “We understand that the student is thriving at her current school and wish her and her family only the best.”

The lawsuit did not name the family, who later publicly identified themselves as the one referred to in the complaint as John and Jane Doe. Nicole Maines was named in the lawsuit as Susan Doe.

The final order, signed by Anderson, stated that “the process employed by the Orono School Department to deny access by Susan Doe to the girls’ restroom at the Asa Adams School and the Orono Middle School were in violation [of the law].”

It also permanently enjoined the district “from refusing access by transgender students to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.”

The incident that sparked the court case began in 2007 when a child, who was born male but identifies as female, was forced to stop using the girls bathroom at the Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono. She was told to use a staff bathroom after the grandfather of a male student complained.

During the past five years, Nicole Maines and her family have been honored by GLAD and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Last month, Glamour magazine named Nicole Maines one of 50 “hometown heroes” — one woman from each state that the magazine honored for making a difference in America.

The teen told the magazine she hopes to be an advocate for other transgender youth and hopes her story can be an inspiration to them and to young people in general.

“They can look at what happened in Maine and see … our state leaders validated that everyone gets to be whom they need to be,” she said. “There’s still work to be done and stories that need to be told. … I think [advocacy] will always be a part of my life.”

BDN writer Emily Burnham contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated GLAD took the case on a contingency basis and omitted the name of the Portland law firm named in the order.


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like