An Orono district where school administrators refused to allow a transgender girl to use a girls’ restroom has been ordered to pay a $75,000 award, the final step in a precedent-setting case decided by the state Supreme Judicial Court in January.
Although the high court’s ruling in Nicole Maines’ favor largely settled her dispute with the school district, it left the two sides to work out the remaining details in Penobscot County Superior Court.
The lower court issued an order Nov. 25 that had been agreed upon by lawyers for Maines and the school district, prohibiting the district from “refusing access by transgender students to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.”
“This was really just a technical conclusion of the case,” said Carisa Cunningham, spokeswoman for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented Maines in the lawsuit.
The order specifies that the school district must pay $75,000 to GLAD and Berman Simmons, a Portland law firm that also represented Maines, to cover legal expenses, related costs and a financial award.
“A significant portion of that amount is going to the Maines family,” Cunningham said, although she declined to say exactly how the $75,000 would be divided.
Maines, now a 17-year-old high school senior in Portland, was a fifth-grader at Asa Adams School in Orono in 2007 when the guardian of another student objected to her use of a communal girls’ bathroom. Administrators intervened, telling Nicole to use a separate, unisex faculty bathroom.
Nicole Maines – born Wyatt Maines – has identified as a girl since as early as age 2. School officials became aware of her gender identification when she was in the third grade, when students and teachers began referring to Nicole as “she.”
Nicole was using the girls’ bathroom, which in the lower grades accommodated only one person at a time. By the fourth grade, Nicole was dressing and appearing exclusively as a girl, and was initially allowed in fifth grade to use the communal girls’ bathroom, the Supreme Judicial Court wrote in its Jan. 30 decision.
Her use of the communal bathroom was uneventful until one boy, at the direction of his legal guardian – his grandfather – followed Nicole into the girls’ bathroom twice, arguing that he, too, was entitled to use it. In the ensuing controversy, the school administration reversed course and barred Nicole from using the communal girls’ bathroom.
The lower court initially supported the school administrators’ decision, but the state’s high court overturned that ruling after Maines appealed.
“This is an important decision in that it sets a precedent, and that is a building block for similar cases nationally,” Cunningham said.