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July 28, 2021
Best & Flanagan Helps Secure Victory for Transgender Student Alleging Discrimination by Minnesota School District

On July 14, 2021, the Wright County District Court approved a $218,500 settlement agreement between the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District and Best & Flanagan clients Matt and Helene Woods, securing significant policy changes and protections for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.

Best & Flanagan attorneys Amy Conners and Katie Barrett Wiik represented Matt Woods and his mother Helene as pro bono co-counsel along with Jess Braverman and Christy Hall from the legal nonprofit organization Gender Justice. Together, they argued the school district violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, as well as Matt’s constitutional rights to education and equal protection, by failing to provide him with a safe and equitable learning environment as a transgender student. 

The suit alleged that while in middle school, the district denied Matt access to restrooms and locker rooms that aligned with his gender identity, in violation of Minnesota law. In 2020, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a precedential opinion in N.H. v. Anoka-Hennepin Sch. Dist. No. 11, 950 N.W.2d 553, 566 (Minn. Ct. App. 2020) (another case in which Gender Justice was co-counsel), establishing that both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Constitution provide a transgender student the right to use school facilities that are consistent with their gender identity. 

As a result of the Woods’ lawsuit and this settlement, the school district has agreed to create and implement formal written policies addressing the rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students, which will apply district-wide beginning with the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. These new protections against discrimination include:

  • Ensuring that transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students have access to restrooms and locker room facilities that align with their gender identity;
  • Ensuring that transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students can play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity; and
  • Ensuring that school officials refer to students by the proper names and pronouns.

As Jess Braverman, Gender Justice’s Legal Director, succinctly stated, “It’s not just a suggestion that schools respect the gender identities of trans students. It’s the law.”

Katie and Amy are accomplished litigators who are deeply committed to pro bono work, particularly advancing gender equality and advocating on behalf of those who have experienced discrimination. Katie has a civil and complex commercial litigation practice, with an emphasis on strategic motions and appeals. Amy also handles complex litigation matters, with an emphasis on government investigations, criminal defense, and professional license defense.

Further reading:
Gender Justice: Transgender Student Wins Settlement Over Discrimination by Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District
Star Tribune: Transgender student wins settlement from Wright county school district in restroom access lawsuit

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