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Fourth Circuit Overturns West Virginia Transgender Sports Law

April 18, 2024

Anthony Herman

Banning transgender participation in women’s sports has become one of the latest causes célèbres among many on the political right. As a result, 25 states have passed laws or regulations banning or limiting transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

West Virginia was among those states. However, on April 16th, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) struck down the 2021 West Virginia Law titled the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The Court sided with 13-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson (who has identified as a girl since the third grade), concluding the law violated Title IX’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

Protections for transgender individuals in the workplace have been codified in many states, including Maryland, for years. In 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Bostock v. Clayton County that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes employment discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

As noted in both the Bostock opinion and its progeny, the ruling in Bostock was expressly limited to Title VII and the employment context. So, too, will this week’s Fourth Circuit ruling be limited to the “Save Women’s Sports Act” in West Virginia. However, this week’s opinion was not the first court ruling against transgender athlete bans. Temporary injunctions already have been put in place blocking similar laws in Arizona, Idaho, and Utah.

The Pew Research Center states that 1 in 20 young adults in the United States believe their gender is different from their birth-assigned sex. Issues surrounding transgender rights are only heightening as both sides of the political aisle become more entrenched. This week’s ruling was the latest in a string of victories for those advocating for transgender rights and protections. Wherever the next legal challenge arises – perhaps in a Planet Fitness locker room – advocates are hopeful that this judicial trend continues.

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