Civil Rights

Transgender student and Baptist college both claim victory in lawsuit over expulsion

A California state trial court has handed partial victories to both a transgender college student and the religious school that expelled her, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Friday.

Domaine Javier (called Domainlor Javier Cabading in court papers) registered as a female for nursing classes at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. Though born male, Javier lives as a female and is classified as female on her driver’s license and Social Security records, according to an April article from MSNBC.

The school, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, didn’t find out through Javier’s behavior at school or complaints from other students. Rather, Javier came out as transgender on the MTV reality show True Life. That led to her expulsion in 2011 and an order that she not appear at CBU properties open to the public.

Though CBU holds its students to stricter-than-average standards—including mandatory weekly chapel attendance and staying away from alcohol—there are no rules addressing gender identity. Rather, the university said Javier was expelled for fraud. Administrative appeals affirmed the expulsion and order to stay off CBU property, but reversed an order to stay away from on-campus community events.

In 2013, Javier sued the university under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of gender or gender identity. The lawsuit also alleged breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Clifford Davidson, one of Javier’s attorneys, said a key issue in the case was whether the Unruh Act applies to a private, religiously affiliated school like CBU. The law applies to “business establishments,” which CBU had argued that it was not.

Riverside Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask agreed, as to on-campus educational activities. She found the CBU indistinguishable from the defendant in Doe v. California Lutheran High School Association, a 2009 case in which California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal declined to apply the Unruh Act to a private Lutheran high school. She also rejected the contract claims because Javier didn’t exhaust the administrative process or petition for administrative mandamus.

But Trask did find that CBU’s for-profit properties, including a library and restaurants, were business establishments and thus could not exclude Javier. She awarded $4,000 in damages and attorney fees to Javier on that count.

Both sides claimed victory, the Press-Enterprise said. An attorney for the university, James McDonald, told the newspaper that CBU was pleased by the ruling that a private, religious school is not a business. Davidson’s co-counsel, Paul Southwick, said he was pleased by the “really strong statement from the court” that businesses may not discriminate against transgender people.

Southwick said he planned an appeal on the grounds that CBU accepts state and federal funding, which should subject it to the same rules as other publicly funded schools. McDonald said the university would consider an appeal as well.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.