ORONO, Maine — The Orono school district’s insurance has covered almost all of the legal and settlement costs stemming from the lengthy court battle over a transgender student’s access to the girls bathroom, according to Superintendent Joanne Harriman.
“The attorney fees are covered by insurance so there is no cost [or] impact to Orono taxpayers,” she said.
Maine School Management Association, RSU 26’s insurance carrier, used Aspen Speciality Insurance to cover the legal fees associated with the lawsuit brought by Nicole Maines, said Melissa Hewey, a Portland attorney representing the school board, on Monday. Orono only incurred a one-time $5,000 deductible when the suit was initially filed.
Neither Hewey nor Superintendent Harriman would release the total amount spent on legal fees over the last seven years around the Maines lawsuit.
Messages left at the Aspen Speciality Insurance office in New York for comment about the legal costs were not immediately returned.
Nicole Maines, now 17, is a male-to-female transgender person who was enrolled as a fifth-grade student at Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono during the 2007-2008 school year when she was denied access to the girl’s bathroom. She was told to use a staff bathroom, after the grandfather of a male student complained.
The following year, as a sixth-grader, Maines was again denied access to the girls bathroom at Orono Middle School. She sued, starting a seven-year process that began with a complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2008 and a second complaint filed in 2009.
Nicole Maines’ parents, Wayne and Kelly Maines, then sued what is now Regional School Unit 26 in 2009 in Penobscot County Superior Court on behalf of their daughter, who has a twin brother.
A final order in her case was issued Nov. 25 in Penobscot County Superior Court, stating that Orono violated the law and preventing the school district “from refusing access by transgender students to school restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity.”
The court also awarded $75,000 to the Boston- and Portland-based legal firms that represented the girl and her parents. The Maines family now lives in Cumberland County and the teen siblings attend a private school.
Initially, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled in the school district’s favor in November 2012, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed that ruling in a 5-1 decision in January of this year.
Harriman said Tuesday that now that the lawsuit is finalized, the school finally has direction about how to handle transgender students.
“In terms of changes in Orono schools — we are happy to finally have some clear guidance from the court and we are following the court’s directive,” the superintendent said.