Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 26, 2013

Transgender former student sues Pitt

A transgender former Pitt-Johnstown student has sued the University for discrimination and breach of contract after being expelled for refusing to stop using men’s locker room facilities at UPJ.

Seamus Johnston, who was born female but identifies as male, was expelled following a January 2012 UPJ judicial conduct hearing in which he was found guilty of exhibiting disorderly, lewd or indecent behavior; failing to comply with lawful directions of a University official, and entering University facilities without authorization. (See Jan. 26, 2012, University Times.)

In 2011 Johnston was charged with indecent exposure, defiant trespass and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors, after refusing to stop using the men’s facilities on campus.

In May, Johnston pleaded guilty in Cambria County court to reduced charges and was sentenced to six months’ probation and $150 in fines on summary offenses of defiant trespass and disorderly conduct. (See June 13 University Times.)

He is seeking reinstatement of his academic credits, honors and scholarship and compensatory damages for lost grant and scholarship monies, interest on student debt since his expulsion, lost potential wages, humiliation, emotional suffering, punitive damages and legal costs.

In addition to the University, Johnston’s complaint names among the defendants Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg; UPJ men’s soccer head coach Eric Kinsey; former UPJ vice president for student affairs Jonathan Wescott, and UPJ police officers Matthew Updyke, Nancy Turner, Daniel W. Dunn and Paul J. Eash.

Ken Service, vice chancellor for University communications, said the University will defend itself vigorously against Johnston’s claims.


In his complaint filed Sept. 16 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Johnston stated that some of his application materials “contained the erroneous sex designation of female” and that he listed his sex as female when he applied to UPJ in 2009 “to avoid any discrepancies that might result in his application being delayed or denied.”

Johnston stated in the complaint that he enrolled at UPJ in 2009 and “identified and lived openly as male,” including using men’s restrooms on campus.

He argued that he was expelled “ostensibly because he used men’s facilities while having a female sex designation on his student records” and that he would not have been subject to the discipline and the loss of his full scholarship to UPJ had the campus corrected the sex designation on his student records.

He also claims the University “in a retaliatory furtherance of their discriminatory conduct” gave his name to the FBI, which investigated him for possible involvement in last year’s bomb threats against the University. (See April 19, 2012, University Times.) Although he was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, Johnston was not charged in connection with the threats.

In his federal complaint, Johnston stated that he used the men’s locker room while enrolled in a men’s weight training class in spring 2011.

He re-enrolled in the class in fall 2011, but was told in mid-September that he could no longer use the men’s facilities. Rather than use the women’s locker room, he agreed to use a unisex referees’ locker room.

According to the filing, Johnston in October 2011 complained to UPJ President Jem Spectar about his exclusion from the men’s locker room but was told he could use the men’s facilities only by changing his gender status through a court order or on his birth certificate.

Johnston was issued disorderly conduct citations after he resumed using the men’s locker room in conjunction with the weight training class. Those citations later were withdrawn.

His continued refusal to comply led to disciplinary hearings, which resulted in him being suspended, banned from University property, and later expelled.

Johnston stated in his complaint that he told his story at the Jan. 20 meeting of the University Senate’s anti-discriminatory policies committee. While the committee recommended that Pitt’s nondiscrimination policy should align with an individual’s identified sex, rather than natal sex, the complaint stated, a representative of the Office of General Counsel told the committee “students must act in accordance with their birth certificate.”


Johnston filed a discrimination complaint in April 2012 with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations. The city commission dismissed the complaint last October, citing a lack of jurisdiction because the alleged harm occurred in Johnstown.

The commission, however found probable cause in a complaint filed last year by the Rainbow Alliance, which advocates for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and allied community on campus. The student group alleged that the University discriminates against transgender and non gender-conforming individuals.

The University has asked the commission to set aside its decision but the commission has yet to act on that request. (See Aug. 29 University Times.)

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 3

Leave a Reply