Appeals Court Halts Transgender Bias Training for Jersey City Police

By June 3, 2020Injury Law

The Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) lost a transgender discrimination lawsuit and as a result, the trial court ordered the JCPD to provide annual transgender awareness training. On May 8, 2020, a state appeals court put the brakes on the annual training – for now. The case, Holmes v. Jersey City Police Department, involved a transgender individual who was arrested for shoplifting. The individual, Shakeem Malik Holmes, who identifies as a male was born, Malika Holmes, with female anatomy. When he was arrested he gave the police his legal name, as it appeared on his New Jersey state driver’s license, and he was placed in a male holding cell. When his fingerprints came back under the name, Malika Holmes, the officers began accusing him of lying and placed him in a female cell.

At trial, Holmes testified that the officers humiliated him and made profane and degrading remarks about his gender and anatomy. Siding with Holmes, the jury found that the police officers’ conduct was discriminatory and in violation of New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. As a remedy for the discrimination, the trial judge required the JCPD to provide annual transgender awareness training and payment of Holmes’ attorney fees and costs. The JCPD objected to the training requirement because after Holmes filed the lawsuit, the department adopted new policies and procedures regarding transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals. The trial court, however, found that they were inadequate and ordered annual training.

The appeals court’s decision seems to give the JCPD only a temporary stay. It found that the trial court does have the power to order a police department to undergo bias training. However, when issuing such an order the trial judge must first provide the department with an opportunity to address the scope and reasonableness of the proposed training. The appeals court stated that courts have wide discretion when fashioning a remedy designed to eradicate unlawful discrimination – it just must be implemented in a way that satisfies due process by giving all sides a fair hearing.

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