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June 14, 2012

Pitt seeks to dismiss discrimination claims

Pitt has filed motions to dismiss two discrimination claims filed in April with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations.

The first complaint was filed April 16 by a former Pitt-Johnstown transgender student, who was born female but identifies as a male. UPJ junior Seamus Johnston was expelled in January for ignoring a directive to stop using the men’s locker room facilities unless he could produce an amended birth certificate. (See April 19 University Times.)

In its May 17 motion to dismiss response, the University maintains that the Pittsburgh commission does not have jurisdiction over incidents occurring in Johnstown.

Johnston filed a response to Pitt’s assertion, stating that “the issue under investigation is whether the University of Pittsburgh, as a non-profit corporation, is engaging in discriminatory practice while doing business in the City of Pittsburgh.”

He further stated that all of Pitt’s governing policies are subject to the Pittsburgh-based trustees’ approval, and in matters of discrimination, the chancellor, provost and trustees — all located in Pittsburgh — have ultimate authority. He also noted that Johnstown-campus officials deferred to the Pittsburgh-campus Office of General Counsel in their dealings with Johnston.

The second complaint was filed April 25 by the Rainbow Alliance, an undergraduate student organization that represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people on campus. (See May 3 University Times.) In that complaint, the organization alleges that Pitt policies and procedures affecting transgender students violate the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance. That ordinance, the Rainbow Alliance said in its complaint, recognizes gender-identification as separate from natal sex.

The complaint states further that Pitt’s procedures are creating an unsafe and hostile environment for transgender students, forcing them into dorms, locker rooms and bathrooms that are incompatible with the gender with which they identify and creating an environment of discomfort and harassment.

Pitt’s June 1 motion to dismiss maintains that the Rainbow Alliance complaint does not identify any actual instance of alleged discrimination or any actual alleged harm incurred by any member of the University community.

According to Charles Morrison, director of the 15-member Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the Rainbow Alliance has filed a response to Pitt’s motion.

Pitt’s motions now will undergo a review by the commission’s motions committee, Morrison said. He declined to comment further.

John Fedele, associate director of News, said Pitt does not comment on ongoing litigation.

—Peter Hart

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