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5th Circuit Revives Trans Woman's Case Against Sheriffs Who Misgendered and Humiliated Her

Prison interior. Jail cells and shadows, dark background. 3d illustration
By Laura Temme, Esq. on April 01, 2021 3:26 PM

Valerie Jackson arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on November 4, 2016, ready to vacation with friends. According to Jackson, she had recently started carrying a gun in her purse because she was being stalked by a man who had assaulted or harassed at least two other women. She was arrested at the airport for attempting to bring the gun through security - which Jackson says only happened because she forgot the gun was in her bag.

When officials at the Dallas County jail learned that Jackson is transgender, the nightmare truly began. While in their custody, she was ordered to lift her shirt and expose her breasts and pull down her pants and underwear. When she asked why an officer replied:

"We have to verify that you've had a sex change. If you have a penis, you're going with the men. If you have a vagina, you're going with the women."

District Court Dismisses Legal Complaint

Feeling she had no other choice, Jackson complied with the strip search. She was eventually moved to a male locker room. Eventually, she was released, and her charges dropped. But even after filing a formal complaint, when Jackson was arrested again a year later, she encountered the same treatment - and was even forced to shower with male inmates.

When Jackson sued Dallas County and several officers from the Sheriff's department, the district court dismissed her case on a 12(b)(6) motion, meaning she had not stated a claim upon which the courts could grant relief. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

5th Circuit Finds Strip-Search Policy Enough to Move Forward

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit panel held that Jackson had sufficiently shown the Dallas County Sheriff's Department had a policy of "strip-searching transgender detainees for the sole purpose of determining their gender and classifying them solely on their biological sex." Therefore, she can move forward in her claims under §1983 that the County has a policy or custom that violated her constitutional rights.

Judge Starr Will Stay On Despite Calls for Recusal

Separately, Jackson also asked the Fifth Circuit to review District Court Judge Brantley Starr's refusal to recuse himself from her case. Jackson argues that Judge Starr is biased against the LGBTQ community and that he advocated against equal rights for transgender students when he was Deputy Attorney General of Texas. However, the panel held that the examples of Judge Starr's advocacy for the State of Texas reflected his client's legal positions, not his personal views.

Related Resources

Why Are Lawmakers Targeting Trans Youth? (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)

Biden Reversed the Ban on Transgender People Serving in the Military: What Does That Mean? (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)

Supreme Court: Title VII Protections Include Sexual Orientation and Transgender Status (FindLaw's Supreme Court)

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