Pitt faces suit from man questioned about threats

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A transgender man who last year appeared before a grand jury investigating the bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh sued Pitt on Monday, claiming he was expelled, charged criminally and subjected to FBI scrutiny because of a dispute over use of a locker room.

Seamus Johnston of Johnstown wrote in the lawsuit filed pro se that he began attending Pitt's Johnstown campus in 2009 on a full tuition scholarship for commuter students.

Mr. Johnston, 24, who was born a woman, filed a name change with Pitt in 2011 and enrolled in a for-credit men's weightlifting class, according to the complaint.

During his second semester in that class, a university administrator told him that he should not use the men's locker room unless he got a court order or a birth certificate change. He was told to use a unisex locker room normally reserved for referees.

Following publication of a campus newspaper story about the dispute, Pitt police cited Mr. Johnston, declared him persona non grata in the men's locker room and eventually from the entire sports center, and finally dismissed him from the university, according to the lawsuit.

Campus police also charged Mr. Johnston criminally with indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and defiant trespass. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and defiant trespass, and was on probation for 90 days.

Last year, while U.S. Attorney David Hickton was leading an effort to find the source of the Pitt bomb threats, the FBI took Mr. Johnston's computer and brought him before a grand jury. In the complaint, Mr. Johnston wrote that Pitt gave his "name to the FBI in a retaliatory furtherance of their discriminatory conduct."

Mr. Johnston said Monday that he based that accusation on "the timing, obviously, and from passing comments from the agents."

"We do intend to vigorously defend any of the claims related to this case," said Pitt spokesman Ken Service, declining to comment further.

Adam Busby of Dublin was eventually charged for making the bomb threats. He has not yet been extradited.

Mr. Johnston said he was inspired to file the lawsuit by Johnstown-area transgender student Kasey Caron's efforts to run for homecoming king despite school officials' ruling that he can only run for queen because he was born female. "I was just incensed to find out that this kind of discrimination is still going on," Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. Johnston claimed that he was a victim of gender discrimination under federal and state law, and that Pitt breached its contract by defying its own ban on gender identity-related harassment. It named Pitt, chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, six other officials and 10 unidentified officials as defendants.

The lawsuit demanded damages for the lost scholarship, lost potential wages, humiliation and emotional suffering, plus reinstatement at the university.

education - breaking - region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published September 16, 2013 4:15 PM


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